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Coyotes have been spotted in west Napa neighborhoods. They are likely hunting for garbage, dog food and small critters, experts say. Stock photography photo

Browns Valley resident Cynthia Rinehart was walking her dogs one night last weekend in Sunrise Meadows Park when she realized something was amiss — her border collie dug in his heels and wouldn’t budge.

She looked up to see two coyotes scamper away, the first time she’s seen coyotes in more than 20 years of living in west Napa.

“It was kind of disbelief, like coyotes — huh?,” Rinehart said. “We don’t have coyotes here.”

A number of her neighbors have reported seeing the wild animals in the last couple of weeks, setting off a chain of postings on the subject at an online neighborhood news forum, Nextdoor Browns Valley, Rinehart said.

“Browns Valley neighbors are talking,” Rinehart said.

The Napa County Sheriff’s Animal Control Division has received several reports of coyotes in the Browns Valley neighborhood in the last month, said Sgt. Craig Nickles.

Nickles said his officers will check the area, but unless there’s a report of an attack or a diseased coyote, animal control is inclined to let the critters be.

Researchers at UC Davis, track reports of coyote attacks on humans, but have never heard of one occurring in Napa County, said Robert Timm, director of the university’s Hopland Research & Extension Center.

Nickles said coyote sightings are common in the more rural areas of Napa County, especially this time of year when coyotes are breeding and roaming around to look for mates.

“It’s a pretty natural occurrence for this time of year,” Nickles said. “Obviously, in the county we encounter them all the time. In the city they’re a little more surprising.”

People tend to notice coyotes moving into new urban or suburban areas in three stages, said Larry Hawkins, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in California.

First, they hear the animals howling at night. Next, they notice them moving around at night or near dawn. Finally, they may see them moving through neighborhoods during the day.

The last stage is the most problematic, Hawkins said. Coyotes are omnivores, and will eat anything from fruit to garbage, small rodents and pets.

“That’s the point where they’re losing their fear of humans,” Hawkins said. “That’s the point where people really need to be cautious.”

Hawkins didn’t know of any studies that tallied the number of coyotes in Napa County.

Browns Valley resident Judi McCabe said she’s seen coyotes twice in the last two weeks — once in the morning when one walked near a group of children waiting for the school bus at Scenic and Westview drives, and again at night, when she heard and saw two coyotes howling across the street from her house.

McCabe said she’s lived in the area for a decade and had never heard or seen coyotes before.

“It was odd, after

10 years, to have them that close,” McCabe said. “It sort of startled me. I’m a little concerned. They’re just coming out of the hills.”

McCabe described the coyotes she saw as adults, weighing about 50 pounds and being similar in stature to a small German shepherd.

Rinehart said the two she saw seemed to be in good shape, as they had healthy coats of fur. After seeing the animals in Sunrise Meadows park while walking her border collie and Australian shepherd, Rinehart said she’s taking more precautions to protect her pets.

She is not advocating that animal control officers trap and kill the coyotes, Rinehart said. Her neighbors agree with her, she said.

“There was the general consensus that unless they caused a problem, the preference was to let them be,” Rinehart said. “I’m just more on high alert. I don’t want my dogs to chase them.”

Hawkins said residents should take steps to make their properties less attractive to coyotes, such as removing overgrown vegetation that coyotes will use as den space and prey animals will use as habitat.

“That’s kind of like a smorgasbord for coyotes,” Hawkins said.

He also said people should never feed a coyote, and encourages residents not to leave food and water outside for pets, as that could attract coyotes, and making sure their fences are well maintained.

Securing garbage cans, keeping dogs on a leash during walks, and keeping small pets such as cats indoors at night will also help deter coyotes, said Camilla Fox, executive director of the Project Coyote, a nonprofit that supports educating the public about coyotes. If residents encounter a coyote, making noise and appearing big by waving arms or jumping up and down should scare it off.

Hawkins said indicators that coyotes have become a problem in urban and suburban neighborhoods are daytime sightings in neighborhoods, and a proliferation of posters about lost pets.

If that happens, Hawkins encourages residents to contact animal control or the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner, who will call USDA’s wildlife service.

Hawkins said his agency only focuses on killing problem animals because trapping them and moving them to a different area only moves the problems.

He emphasized that coyotes are a vital part of the food chain and the natural environment, and are often too skittish to pose any threat to people.

“There’s no reason to be really, really afraid of them,” Hawkins said. “Coyotes are a natural resource. We want this predator in our environment.”

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