Dr. Julie Damron

4 minutes reading time (750 words)

Territorial fight turns ugly along the Delta

Your Pets
By Dr. Julie Damron
Stockton Record January 18, 2008

THE DELTA - It's enough to give city folk the shivers: Seven dead coyotes, slung over a barbed-wire fence in a farmer's field on Lower Roberts Island.

Just down the road, Kent Kiefer explains the mystery: His cousin, farmer Rod Dement, lost his Jack Russell terrier last summer to a hungry coyote.

Dement, who used to carry his little dog everywhere, has been hunting coyotes since.

"They're all over," Kiefer said. "It's unbelievable, man."

Meanwhile, north of Stockton, veterinarian John Lindsey forces four antibiotic pills down the throat of his pet emu, Olivia. She left a trail of feathers all over his field one night last week as a pack of coyotes chased her and snapped at her legs.

Venture past Stockton city limits and you'll find plenty of rural residents with tales such as these. Despite 200 years of intense shooting and trapping, coyotes are more numerous today than when the Constitution was signed.

There may be no other wild animal whom humans have tried so hard to eradicate, only to prove remarkably resistant, says the Humane Society of the United States.

In San Joaquin County, they sneak into pastures in the dark and snatch away young calves, eluding frustrated ranchers who hear their nighttime howls.

They creep into vineyards and chew on drip irrigation lines like a puppy's toys, eating through farmers' pocketbooks.

While no one's counting, accounts of these incidents seem to be on the rise.

San Joaquin County in the 1990s dedicated a full-time employee to trap coyotes, but budget cuts reduced that position to part time, and the program today is driven only by complaints, said Scott Hudson, the county's agricultural commissioner.

Perhaps this has allowed the coyote population to grow, Hudson pondered.

It's perfectly legal to kill coyotes for sport, according to the Department of Fish and Game. No one does, Kiefer said - who would want to eat one?

As a result, the coyotes are gobbling up ground birds and disrupting real hunting opportunities.

"No pheasants left," Kiefer said. "The birds don't even have a chance. It's a sad situation."

Another neighbor, Annelene Morris, said she locks her dogs in the garage at night - even 90-pound Sally, a border collie and Labrador mix.

"They'd kill her in a minute," Morris said. "I hope Rod (Dement) can get rid of some of those coyotes."

Although Dement's display of coyote carcasses might shock some, in the ranching community, it is an old tradition to hang them for all to see. Some believe the carcasses will scare away other coyotes.

"It is sort of like killing a deer and putting the carcass and horns in plain sight in the back of a pickup truck for everyone to see," said Sonke Mastrup, deputy director of Fish and Game. "It isn't the thing to do anymore" in an urbanized society.

Coyotes are likely to be less aggressive in areas where they are hunted, according to Fish and Game. They become a problem when they find garbage or are fed by curious residents who might be new to rural life.

Maybe that's the coyote's secret to thriving while other species decline:

» The coyote is adaptable.

» It will eat almost anything. "Sheep, poultry, deer, snakes, foxes, doughnuts, sandwiches, rodents, rabbits, fruits and vegetables, birds, frogs, grass, grasshoppers, pet cats, cat food, pet dogs, dog food, carrion, garbage ..." reads a breathless, and surely not comprehensive, list from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

» It can live almost anywhere -in storm drains, ditches, under sheds, holes dug in vacant lots - any dark and dry place.

In Southern California, coyotes have been spotted trotting down suburban streets and have even attacked children.

They're not all bad. Coyotes in the Delta eat rodents that otherwise might be tunneling into shaky levees.

"Coyotes will kill anything they can put their teeth into," Mastrup said. "They'll attack species such as foxes. ... They have an important place in nature.

"We're certainly not running out of coyotes," he said. "As wildlife managers, we are not concerned about the species."

Lindsey, the veterinarian, is. He believes the canines tunneled beneath a chain-link fence to gain access to his 5-acre pasture and Olivia the emu. The only reason she wasn't killed, he theorizes, is that nearby horses scared the dogs away.

"At least something saved her life, poor thing," he said.

And as for the guilty parties: "Anytime you're not putting pressure on a population, it grows," Lindsey said. "They've simply adapted to us very well."

Record staff writer Pete Ottesen contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or .

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