Sightings no indication coyote population on rise, officials say
Conversations of Lake Tahoe wildlife sightings tend to spring up more often as the seasons change and the snow begins to melt.
Social media has been buzzing with reports of coyote sightings in the Tahoe Basin lately, leaving some residents wondering if the population is increasing, but officials say that the number of sightings doesn’t mean the population is growing.
“At least this year, we haven’t had any phone calls about coyote challenges,” Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesperson Chris Healy said.
He said that the number of calls that the department receives isn’t indicative of how many coyotes there may be since people can also call local law enforcement to request help with wildlife, or no one at all.
But Healy also said that a large amount of snow, like what the Lake Tahoe region has seen over recent months, could change where wildlife sightings occur.
“When you get lots of snow they’re more concentrated because it’s not like they’re going to want to trudge through a bunch of snow,” Healy said. “You also have a greater chance of seeing them against a bright white backdrop.”
California Department of Wildlife Public Information Officer Kyle Orr said that while you can find coyotes in every corner of the state, his department also does not have an official population estimate and is unaware of any increase in sightings in the Lake Tahoe area.
“Generally speaking, the fluctuation of coyotes in a given area are relative to the availability of prey during a given season,” Orr said. “That tends to be the common denominator.”
He explained that the department has received more calls statewide in the last few years for coyote sightings in suburban neighborhoods, and said that was attributed to the influx of people moving into areas that were historically coyote habitat.
In other words, the grassy outskirts of urban areas that homes have only recently been built in tend to be where the increases in coyote sightings occur.
“A lot of times, wildlife sightings will become more pronounced when the weather gets better and people are out more,” Orr said. “People are just outside more.”
Coyotes are extremely adaptable and can live in a wide range of environments, from the desert to the mountains and even urban areas.
“Their natural inclination is to avoid humans,” Orr said. “When they’re fed, they become less afraid of humans.”
It’s illegal in California to feed wildlife, including coyotes, intentionally. But even those with the best intentions can attract coyotes and make them less afraid of humans by doing things like leaving pet food outside or not properly storing garbage.
Orr said that more than being concerned with being cited for feeding wildlife, people just shouldn’t do it because it’s harmful to the animal.
He said that often when the department is forced to put down an aggressive coyote, people ask why it can’t just be relocated.
“Relocating a problem coyote isn’t an option because it just moves the problem coyote into another neighborhood,” Orr said. “There can be a territorial conflict with other coyotes, a traffic accident because you’ve got a coyote who’s now unfamiliar with the territory he’s on or a repeat occurrence with the same problems.”
The best bet, he said, is to discourage wildlife from coming around humans in the first place. People can do that by keeping an eye on their small children and pets, not leaving food outside and properly storing garbage so that wildlife cannot access it.
“Don’t do anything that would attract a coyote,” Healy said. “If you’re going to leave pet food outside on your deck for Fido, you’re also leaving it out there so that other animals can get to it. … You have to be careful living in a place that’s as much wild country as it is urban country.”
The last reported instance of a coyote attacking a human in the region was in 1997, but coyotes frequently prey on small dogs. Owners should observe leash laws and always keep their pets in sight while hiking.
Orr said that if someone sees a coyote acting aggressively, they should dial 911.