Searles: Actual numbers remain steady
Coyote sightings have been on the rise in Mammoth, but local Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles said the population is healthy, and their presence is of no threat whatsoever.
“We have a healthy population of coyotes,” Searles said. They are “a little bit busy right now,” he said, owing to decreased natural food sources in the winter, and, he continued, “with the snow coverage, people are seeing them more on the roads; it’s an easier path to travel for them.”
He said in the summer months, coyotes “blend into their surroundings and are much more difficult to see. With the white snow, they really stand out.”
With this snowy, white backdrop, the number of alarmed callers Searles consoles has quadrupled, but, he said, the coyote population has not.
For many, it is a familiar story: Out for an evening walk to enjoy the fresh mountain air, guided by the light of the moon reflecting on the snow. The hair stands up on the back of your neck and you realize you’re being followed. Looking back, you realize it’s only a dog.
But it’s not your dog, and it’s not your neighbors’ dog. It’s a coyote. The fight-or-flight instinct flicks on. You clap your hands and yell. The coyote trots away. You finish your walk and return home with an exciting wildlife encounter to share with your family around the fireplace.
This is the gist of many coyote encounters, Searles said.
“I think sometimes it’s curiosity. Sometimes it’s the pets we’re traveling with, other dogs that they’re looking at. But of all the calls I’ve taken, I can’t think of a single time [a coyote] has caused harm to people.”
Searles said he has people call and ask him all the time what they should do about coyote encounters. His response:
“Enjoy it! I think it’s a blessing to see the wildlife. I think it makes our days better, not worse. I’m kind of a clearinghouse for all calls,” Searles said.
He said he can happily be reached at 760-937-BEAR.
If approached by a coyote, Searles said, “Make loud noises; if you’re on skis or have poles, bang them together.”
He said he’s not trying to ignore the community’s concern over the presence of coyotes. It’s true that their natural food sources are limited this time of year, so they will venture into town looking for scraps.
Searles offered a checklist for wildlife awareness: keep pet food inside and lock dumpsters, just as residents and visitors already do to ward off bear problems. Keep an eye on small pets. Use good judgment and stay aware of your surroundings: yell, clap, and scare off wildlife that gets too close. But also, remember that we live in a wild and natural place, so enjoy it.
Searles said he is optimistic about the town’s relationship with wildlife. In the old, old days, he said, “we really had an overpopulation [of coyotes], and many of them were culled off. We’ve never gotten back to those numbers.”
He said he credits public education and increased awareness: due to the “community’s incredible efforts with solid waste management [trash].”
A healthy population, he said, limited by natural resources and not artificially inflated by access to human food, is ultimately healthier and safer, namely for residents’ own furry companions.
“The public continues to do a great job,” he said, “not just with the bears, but with deer, cougar, raccoon, coyote; everything is better off … I’m so proud of the people of my community.”