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Coyotes Roam in Golden Gate Park, Presidio Urban Wilderness

By Ryder W. Miller

Adding to the variety of life that can be found in the City, but causing worries for some, wild coyotes now make their home in Golden Gate Park and the Presidio.

San Francisco's world-class parks offers visitors a variety of opportunities to view wildlife, especially bird life and non-native plants, but now visitors can also try to get a glance of their new wild coyote neighbors.
But experts warn that they should do so from a distance.
"You don't want to be bitten by a rabbit either," said Jeanine DeWald, wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game. "It is most important to remember that coyotes are normally not a threat to people," DeWald said. "But in the world there are no nevers."
She cautions that people should not attract coyotes with food, and garbage needs to be managed so that coyotes are not attracted. If food is put out for feral cats, coyotes are likely to be attracted to it as well. There have been cases of coyote attacks when people become too friendly with them.
In Orange County, there was an attack by a coyote that was hand fed. There was also an attack by one that was sick. But they have not caused a big enough problem where concerted actions were necessary to remove them from any area in California.
DeWald said she has "not heard of any elimination actions in the state."
Elton Pon, public information officer for the SF Recreation and Park Department, said the issue came up recently at a Richmond District Town Hall Meeting, but there have been sightings of coyotes in Golden Gate Park going back a number of years. Pon said that they are planning to make people more aware of the presence of coyotes. Information will be passed out and there will also be a mention on the Rec. and Park Department's e-bulletin, which goes out to the public.
"People definitely need to be aware and take precautions," Pon said. "Small children and small pets are potentially at risk."
But Pon said there was no plan to eliminate them from the park and that hunting was not allowed in the park. "In terms of trapping them and killing them, it is not in our plans," he said.
"The best prevention is to cover up garbage cans, making sure there is not food around, and informing people," said Pon, who is still conducting research on the subject.
Damien Raffa, a natural resource specialist at the Presidio Trust and coyote point-person, concurs.
"We manage them by managing human behavior," Raffa said.
According to Raffa, the basic message is to keep your distance and do not feed them. Coyotes can be scared away by making noise. The presence of coyotes in Golden Gate Park and the Presidio could change the wildlife ecology of the parks. Coyotes will eat feral cats and rodents. Less birds are likely to be attacked by cats because there will be less feral cats, but there may be less rodent food for predatory birds to hunt.
Coyotes will also compete with feral cats for the food that is put out for them. But coyotes have their defenders.
"Coyotes provide us with free non-toxic rodent control, and as such are a valuable part of an ecosystem," said Jamie Ray, director of the San Francisco Rescued Orphan Mammal Program (SF ROMP), which has a wildlife rehabilitation hospital in the Richmond District (www.sfromp.com, 350-WILD).
"They have been here a while now, something like five years, and nobody has reported a problem," said Ray.
She also said there have been no coyote attacks on humans in Marin County either.
"Public education is the key to peacefully existing with our wild neighbors," Ray said. "They are not out there trying to bite people."
Ray said coyotes are shy and pretty much nocturnal, but they will protect their young. When people learn more about coyotes they are less likely to be afraid of them.
"It is important that people don't feed wildlife. We want coyotes to retain their fear of humans," said Ray, who advises park neighbors who are concerned about their cats to keep them in the house at night.
Ray said there is not a lot of information about how coyotes wound up in San Francisco. They could have come over like deer, which have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to get into the City. For the foreseeable future, coyotes will add more wonder and mystery to the Golden Gate Park and Presidio experience.
"They are something to appreciate rather than to automatically fear," said DeWald.
Representatives at the San Francisco Animal Care & Control chose not to comment about the city's coyote population.
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