Dear Editor – Culver City Coyotes Past and Future

To the Editor:

For the information of any of your readers who have been following with interest the coyote situation here in Culver City during and in the aftermath of what I now look back on as “Coyote Summer,” the next step in our City’s evolving “coyote management” program will be discussed – and in part shaped by community input – at an upcoming community forum to be hosted jointly by CCPD and staff from LMU/LA Center for Urban Resilience on Wednesday, March 13th at 7:00pm (Kaizuka room at Veterans Memorial Park Building). This forum follows on the heels of the City Council’s vote at the February 11th meeting to approve funding for and the hiring of LMU coyote behavioral scientist Dr Peter Strauss and his team to conduct what is contemplated to be a three year research project on coyote management in Culver City.

The draft research project proposal that was submitted by Dr. Strauss for consideration at the February 11th City Council meeting can be viewed at culvercity.org/coyote or through CCPD’s website. And anyone who is interested can watch the video of the meeting on the City’s website to see Dr. Strauss’ presentation to the City Council and the discussion and decision that followed.

Public comment at the Council meeting concerning the proposed research project was extensive and often heated with objections and concerns raised that ranged from the amount of money being spent (and that it was being spent outside of the formal budget approval process), to the choice to spend money on a study rather than on coyote trappers, to a perceived anti-cat bias on Dr. Strauss’ part based on previous statements by Dr. Strauss concerning coyote and cat interaction that seem inconsistent with our community’s actual experiences, to the failure to solicit proposals from other research teams, to the relevance (or lack thereof) of certain specifics of the scope of the proposed study (coyote scat testing, collaring and tracking of community cats in addition to coyotes, etc). Dr. Strauss fielded numerous questions from members of the public as well as Council Members and clarified that the presented proposal was a working draft and intended as a starting point and that it was his desire to work with our City and community members to create a research program that would be best designed to fit the specific needs and concerns of our community.

Ultimately the Council Members voted in favor (4-1, Eriksson opposed) of entering into and funding a contract with Dr. Strauss’ LMU team with the specifically stated policy goal of gathering additional concrete information on the specifics of our coyote population in order to inform future coyote management decision in a facts-based, science-driven manner. However, in response to the various concerns and suggestions that had been voiced by members of the public, the City Council agreed that the final terms of the research program (including its cost, at least up to the authorized $211,000) would be further refined and specifically required that the process take into consideration community input in order to create a program as supported by and vested in by residents (and thus with the best chance of success) as possible.

Which brings us to the community forum coming up on March 13th.

Setting aside any objections to participating in a study at all – they should be using this money to trap and kill any coyotes they can; they shouldn’t be spending money on this issue at all and should just let nature run its course; they should have hired a different expert, etc. – because that ship has sailed, what would be the best goals for a coyote research program in Culver City? And what are the best ways to obtain those goals? Can we put together our collective knowledge gathered through our personal experiences with coyotes here in Culver City to help shape a research program that would best suit the specific needs of our city? Should the focus be on tracking our coyote population and gathering info on where they den, where and what they eat, and their transit routes into, out of and through our city? If so, which technology should our funds be invested in toward that end – which type of radio telemetry collars, how many field cameras and where, publicly available online tracking and video feed, etc? Or should much of the allotted funds go toward educating and retraining our human population on how to coexist with coyotes?

Personally I’d like to see most of the funds go toward GPS/satellite linked radio telemetry collars and field cameras so that we can get a better handle on where the coyotes are living and what their transit paths are so that we could possibly interrupt those paths, clean up unintentional food sources (or stop anyone who is intentionally feeding them), close up any hiding places on abandoned property, etc., and ultimately maybe even come up with some creative, nonlethal ways to deter coyotes away from our city or at least our pet population. I plan to attend the community forum and request that emphasis on the collection of tracking information. And I hope others with knowledge and concrete and specific suggestions will also come to the community forum and share those ideas. (Note: anyone who cannot attend the community forum is invited to submit proposed “refinements or alternatives” up until 4pm on March 13th by email to CCPD Lieutenant Leon Lopez at Leon.lopez@culvercity.org).

Coyotes are incredibly smart and adaptive and the science of coyote management is complex and evolving, but I am hopeful that we as a community can be all of these things as well. Who knows, with all the activist energy around this issue and a city administration and police department willing to invest in learning more and the resources of a top coyote science research program at our disposal, maybe this community could even help forge a new and more successful path in community response to coyotes that we can all consider a success.

Thank you,
Lila Swenson

www.culvercitysymphony.org

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