Managing Urban Coyotes: by Janet Kessler

coyote npsA few months ago, coyotes were sighted in and around Sutro Forest. In fact, all urban parks – and some neighborhoods – in San Francisco have families of coyotes visiting or living in them. For those who love wildlife, this is a charming development. However, there are concerns especially around small, off-leash dogs. We’re republishing this article (with permission and minor changes) from to help people who want to know how to react to coyotes. Janet Kessler is a wildlife observer and photographer, specializing in urban coyotes in San Francisco. She has been called the Jane Goodall of San Francisco’s coyotes. The takeaway for us:

  • Killing coyotes destabilizes territories, resulting in more, younger coyotes coming in. Fortunately, San Francisco does not usually kill coyotes.
  • Shooing off coyotes shouldn’t be done unless they are really close. If they’re at a ‘safe’ distance, they’ll just get accustomed to people making loud noises. When it’s done, it must be done convincingly. Here’s a PDF from Coyote Coexistence explaining how: shoo-coyotes-off-final-7-23-14
  • Feeding coyotes is a bad idea; it encourages them to hang around areas where pets and people are found.
  • Leashing dogs in coyote areas, and keeping pet cats indoors protects your pets. Coyotes may consider small pets as food.



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Most cities seem to leave it to individuals — not even larger neighborhood groups — to trap and kill coyotes as they see fit. Folks have long been taught that killing them is the way to manage them, even though it has been proven that this results in higher and younger populations, and fewer stable families to keep other coyotes away. In some places a permit might be required at certain times of the year, but usually not, and sometimes a reason is required to get the permit — including that the coyote was a “nuisance”. In one community, coyote yipping sounds were deemed a “nuisance”. These protocols seem to be the norm. There is no education behind them.

Few cities have actual written “coyote management plans”, such as the plans in Vancouver and Denver. More cities have informational websites offering the standard guidelines and explaining that killing coyotes doesn’t work — again, folks are free to trap and kill if they want to in these communities.

Here in San Francisco trapping and killing are not permitted, but we do not have a written coyote management plan per se, because it was deemed unnecessary. A coyote organization attempted to push its plan through in San Francisco — a plan that included extensive hazing — which the San Francisco Animal Commission wisely turned down. Coyotes do not need to be “hazed” whenever they’re seen — it can be counterproductive. See below.

What works here in San Francisco is educating the public about coyotes and their behavior and giving folks guidelines which will prevent conflicts and other issues. I’ve helped convert many folks to a positive mindset just by telling them a little about coyote family life and iterating the guidelines with some one-on-one help on shooing them off. Coyotes do not approach people unless taught to do so with food, so feeding of coyotes is forbidden, and folks are taught not to leave food attractants out in their yards.

As everyone should know, pets are the main issue of concern, but this is an issue which can be easily managed by not allowing pets to roam free, and by keeping dogs leashed in coyote areas. Basically, what the authorities have been saying here in San Francisco is, that if a dog is bitten by a coyote because the dog was not leashed, or if a cat is taken because it was allowed to roam free, it’s really the owner’s fault and could have been prevented by following the guidelines — please take better care of your pet. This protocol is the only way to make coexistence work: it’s easy, it’s effective, it’s responsible, and the burden of responsibility is on the pet owner to guard his/her pets.


I would like to add something here. . . . In my opinion, some of the “expert” information out there is counterproductive and remiss — it’s actually hurting coyotes and increasing fears in humans. For instance, “hazing” — mostly noise and erratic movement such as arm waving — is promoted as a cure-all which will cause coyotes to flee. But as I’ve seen here in San Francisco, and as we’ve seen in several cities which have now returned to trapping, for example in Seal Beach in Southern California, coyotes can get used to this and begin responding to it more slowly or even ignoring it.

The big problem then is what this does to people’s perceptions about coyotes: folks are under the impression that if a coyote doesn’t flee quickly when hazed, that it is therefore “habituated” and that it now poses a danger to the community. This is not so. Folks have been taught that a “habituated” animal is a dangerous one. This, also, is not true. Because of what has been taught incorrectly about habituation, folks feel that if they simply see a coyote, or if it doesn’t flee quickly upon seeing a person, it must be habituated, or on its way to becoming habituated, and, therefore, to becoming dangerous. Where does this come from? There is no science at all behind it. Telling folks this is increasing their fears. So teaching that “hazing” is a solution has actually backfired.


We all need to become aware of coyote behaviors so that we can know how to prevent issues. Yes, coyotes don’t like canine intruders in their territories: they even don’t allow non-family coyotes in.

  • All canines, be they wolves, dogs, foxes or coyotes, don’t really like each other and all will exclude the others, as well as members of their same species who are non-family members, from their territories. This is instinctive behavior. We can’t really change their instincts of survival, but we can learn about them and understand them, and modify our own behaviors, so that all of us — human, cat, dog, coyote — can coexist. The guidelines are few and simple.
  • The other instinct driving coyote behavior is a food drive. We all need to eat. Coyotes normally hunt small rodents, but they will look for free food which they may find on their wanderings, and they may grab a small pet if the opportunity arises. So, hey, let’s not let those opportunities arise!
  • Roaming through their territories as they visit their hunting spaces is another instinctive behavior. Everyone should know that, by doing so, coyotes in fact are preventing other coyotes from moving in.

Most importantly, coyotes really want to avoid humans. In most urban areas they’ve altered their schedules to avoid us: they are active mostly at night when we are not, even though they are not nocturnal animals.


What actually needs to be taught is that habituation is normal: all animals become habituated to sounds and movements in their environments. It’s okay, and even fun, to see a coyote. This should not cause fear. We should be shaping the overall mindset of folks to think more positively about coyotes. And we need to teach that coyotes are wary — not fearful — of people: they’ll do their best to avoid us, even if they might not flee as quickly as someone might want them to. In spite of this, coyotes will always be wary of people to a certain degree.

It is feeding coyotes which should always be strictly forbidden — it is food-conditioning that could teach them to become demanding or even aggressive in their behavior — and attractants of any sort should be eliminated from yards: you don’t want to invite them to visit, and you might even want to discourage them by shooing them off if you happen to be there. Everyone should be taught how to shoo away a coyote effectively. Scaring or shooing them off intensely should be reserved mostly for when the coyote has entered your personal space — say 30 feet — or is coming after your dog, or if one has entered your yard. Everyone should be taught to respect a coyote’s space and keep away from it. But seeing a coyote off in the distance, or even as close as 50 feet, in a park during the day is normal and healthy coyote behavior. Please see this flyer for detailed information and explanation on scaring off a coyote: PRESS HERE.

Because of territoriality and because small pets are often seen as prey, but also because pets may be seen as an annoyance to coyotes — the presence and activity of small pets can be interpreted by coyotes as harassing or challenging them, so it’s not always about predation — it’s of prime importance that folks guard their pets: keep pets from roaming free, leash pets in coyote areas, don’t let pets chase coyotes, don’t leave food and other attractants out in your yards, know how to shoo away a coyote if it approaches your pet or if it comes into your yard. Aside from guarding pets, the most important management tool we have is habitat modification, consisting mostly of removing all food attractants to keep coyotes away. BUT, on occasion, folks need to realize that a coyote might come by — but that this should not be cause for alarm.


One of the problems in the New York State community of Westchester, is that, due to misinformation presented to the residents, folks felt that “hazing” was no longer working, that because coyotes were becoming “habituated” to the hazing and appearing in someone’s yard, the coyotes were perceived as aggressive and dangerous: a coyote was shot a week ago in that area, in Mamaroneck, simply because it was sighted in a backyard and, therefore, deemed aggressive!! [Edited here] Let’s educate the public properly and let’s use habitat modification as a primary tool, such as removing food sources. I’ve sent a version of this letter out to others, who, like me are helping with the coyote issue in Westchester.

Here is an example of irresponsible and counterproductive behavior by humans. I’ve been keeping track of a particular group of dogs in one of our parks in San Francisco whose owners don’t leash-up and who allow their dogs to chase after coyotes. Fascinatingly, it’s this group of dogs — almost certainly because of their hostile and antagonistic behavior towards coyotes — that the coyotes watch and monitor. These dog owners feel that coyotes are a nuisance, but it is their non-compliance with leashing guidelines and allowing their dogs to chase coyotes which makes these dogs subjects of interest for the coyotes. The owners have, in effect, been allowing their dogs and the coyotes to engage and interact. It’s our responsibility not to allow any such engagement: the repetitive cycle can be broken by leashing the dogs. Other dogs in this park are leashed-up and walk on, and, not surprisingly, these dogs and coyotes leave each other alone.

These are my current conclusions, based on my own experience and observations over the last 7+ years, and from reading some of the recent reports from various locations around the US.

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1 Response to Managing Urban Coyotes: by Janet Kessler

  1. Richard Crooks says:

    People have to leash their pets or suffer the consequences. We moved into the coyotes territory and we have at least show some respect for that. We have to have respect for the urban Forest also – once its gone it will never be back.

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