Living With Wildlife

The Puente Hills is surrounded by roughly 25 perimeter miles of urban edge, nearly all of which consists of residential development. This presents challenges to both the plants and animals living within the natural areas, as well as to the people living in communities adjacent to the Puente Hills. Plants and animals living within natural areas are subject to impacts by “edge effects” from the surrounding urban areas, as well as from authorized recreational activities and unauthorized access to the natural areas. On the urban side of the urban/wildland interface, people may experience visits from wildlife. Co-existence between humans and wildlife is the key to living near and preserving this unique area.

Co-existing With Wildlife

Living in harmony with your wild neighbors helps to soften the urban influence on the wildlife that lives in the adjacent natural areas. With increasing urban development and consequently diminishing native habitat, wildlife are losing places to roam, forage and peacefully exist. Healthy wildlife populations are necessary for healthy ecosystems, which in turn create cleaner air and watersheds, among many other benefits. Please contact us for a copy of the DVD, “Living on the Urban Edge: The Coexistence of People and Wildlife.”

Wildlife Encounters
People living adjacent to or in the vicinity of natural areas will commonly receive unexpected visits from wildlife seeking food, water, and/or shelter. The smaller wildlife, such as rodents, raccoons, and skunks often go unnoticed; whereas larger mammals such as coyotes often draw the attention of humans. Regardless, the presence of unwanted wildlife in urban yards is usually due to one or more factors caused by the residents themselves, in some instances knowingly.

Wildlife is attracted to food, water, and/or shelter in urban yards; whether these sources of attraction are provided intentionally or unintentionally. Food sources may include fruit lying on the ground beneath trees; fruit and vegetable gardens without proper fencing to prevent access; compost piles; garbage; food for domestic pets being left outside on a regular basis (particularly at night); and domestic pets themselves. Water sources include pet bowls, fountains, bird baths, ponds, and swimming pools. The following measures are highly recommended to reduce the likelihood of unwanted visits by wildlife:

  • Fence your backyard. Fences that are 6 feet high and 6 inches underground are an effective means of keeping wildlife out, especially coyotes.  More information about a specialized coyote proof fence can be found at http://www.coyoteroller.com/
  • Secure garbage cans.
  • Do not intentionally provide food or water for wildlife.
  • If you have fruit trees, pick ripe fruit from the tree on a regular basis, and pick up fallen fruit from the ground.
  • Do not leave dog or cat food outside.
  • Keep pets indoors, especially at night.
  • Keep chickens, turkeys and goats in covered pens.
  • Clear away bushes and dense weeds near your home where coyotes find cover and smaller prey to feed on.
  • Eliminate water sources that may attract wildlife.
  • Install outdoor lights triggered by motion sensors to frighten away wildlife at night.

Please visit the following links for more information on coexisting with wildlife:

Coyotes

Coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem, helping to keep populations of rodents and other small mammals under control. Additionally they feed on raccoons, birds, insects, berries, fruits/vegetables, human garbage, outdoor pet food and small pets left unprotected. Thus, coyotes are one of the most adaptable animals, occurring in every habitat type (including urban areas) throughout North America.

When residents living in communities surrounding natural areas (such as the Puente Hills) get coyotes in their neighborhoods, their first thought typically is that the coyotes are “coming down from the hills”. Although many coyotes do enter suburban areas from natural areas looking for food, many coyotes found in suburban areas are year-round residents, including very urban neighborhoods with essentially no natural areas. Through the illegal feeding of coyotes, and/or lack of deterrent measures to discourage coyotes from entering residential areas, humans find coyotes amongst them. Coyotes naturally are found where the food is, and if attractants (like outside pet food and water, rodents, or free roaming house cats) are present, coyotes may be present as well.

Coyotes are not the serious threat that some people make them out to be since attacks on humans are very rare. It is when coyotes become accustomed to humans that they lose their shyness and can become more demanding. Eliminating coyotes by lethal means only perpetuates the population as coyote reproduction will increase to “make-up” for the lost individual, oftentimes resulting in more coyotes than before. Coyotes are most active and visible, potentially causing more interactions with people and pets, during mating season (December – February) and during pup-rearing season (May – July).

To coexist, it is important that coyotes do not associate urban areas with food. Coyotes are naturally fearful of humans, however they readily lose that fear when people intentionally (or unintentionally) provide food/water or shelter for them, or otherwise do not try to deter them from visiting. Eliminating sources that attract coyotes can go a long way in addressing the situation. If you encounter a coyote that is not retreating from humans, please adhere to the following:

  • Make noise and make yourself seem even bigger. (Click for Coyote Hazing tips.) An average adult coyote is about 35 pounds and will be intimidated by people. While they may stop and observe, they will eventually run.
  • Do not run away or turn your back on them. A coyote is hardwired to chase. Stand your ground and then back slowly away while making loud noises.
  • When you’re walking your dog, keep them on a short leash. Coyotes cannot distinguish between a small pet and their prey. Cats should not be left outdoors alone.
  • If you feel your personal safety is immediately at risk, call 911.

For more information on coyotes, please read this brochure provided by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and click here.  For more information on how to haze coyotes go to Coyote Hazing.
Click here for a joint City of Whittier and Habitat Authority Coyote informational flyer .

Mountain Lions
Mountain lion sightings are not common, but occasionally people may catch a fleeting glimpse of this awe-inspiring top predator in the hills. The mere presence of a mountain lion in the Preserve is not something to cause fear; rather, it is a sign that our native ecosystem is functioning properly. CA Department of Fish and Game statistics show that in the last 100 years, only 14 fatal cougar attacks occurred on the entire North American continent. In that time, more than 15,000 people were killed by lightning; 4,000 by bees; 10,000 by deer; 1,300 by rattlesnakes. Mountain lions eat deer almost exclusively, and occasionally other smaller wildlife, and are generally not considered a danger to people. They are secretive and typically avoid contact with people – if you do happen to see one, consider yourself lucky! While there have been no reports of aggressive or threatening behaviors toward humans in the Preserve, it is still a good idea to be cautious, keeping the following guidelines in mind:

  • Hike with a partner or a dog
  • Keep small children close
  • Do not run if you see a lion. If the lion does not run or walk away, hold up your arms or a stick to make yourself appear larger, and yell or make repeated loud noises
  • In the highly unlikely event that you are attacked, FIGHT BACK (do not “play dead”)

For more information on mountain lions, please read this brochure provided by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Edge Effects
Edge effects (or indirect impacts) are impacts associated with urban activity. Examples of “edge effect” impacts are the invasion of non-native plant species into natural areas (generally from yard landscaping); attracting wildlife with food or backyard conditions; predation and disease by domestic companion animals; residential night lighting spilling over into the natural areas; ambient noise levels increased within the natural areas; and habitat fragmentation caused by volunteer (privately made) trails.

For more detailed information about urban edge effects and how you can help alleviate these impacts, please go to the California State Parks Website

Invasive Plants
One challenge facing conservation land managers is controlling the spread of non-native, invasive plants into natural areas from adjacent urban areas. Invasive plants are those that evolved in one region of the globe, are moved by humans to another region where they flourish, crowding out native vegetation and the wildlife that feeds on it. Some invasives can even change ecosystem processes such as hydrology, fire regimes, and soil chemistry. Invasive plants have a competitive advantage because they are no longer controlled by their natural predators, and can quickly spread out of control. In California, approximately 3% of the plant species growing in the wild are considered invasive, but they inhabit a much greater proportion of the landscape. Invasive plants are problematic because they displace native plants and wildlife, increase wildfire and flood danger, consume valuable water needed by native plants and wildlife, and degrade recreational opportunities. The Habitat Authority actively restores habitats that have been degraded through the introduction of non-native plants. These include plants such as castor bean, tree tobacco, pepper trees, eucalyptus trees, mustard, thistles, and non-native grasses.

In order to control the future spread of invasive plants into natural areas, residents living adjacent natural areas are highly encouraged to landscape with native vegetation, or non-invasive exotic species. The Habitat Authority is available to advise individuals on appropriate plants to include in landscaping. In addition, for more information on invasive plants, please visit the website of the California Invasive Plant Council.

Fire
Another potential urban edge issue for people living adjacent to natural areas is the risk of wildfire. Residents living adjacent to areas at risk from wildfires can protect their homes by implementing certain measures. These include the following:

  • You can protect your home by replacing wood shake shingles with a fireproof roof. Consult your local Fire Department or home supply store for more information.
  • Clearing excess brush from your backyard reduces the fuel load immediately adjacent to your home, and also reduces nesting and burrowing sites of unwelcome wildlife. Create a defensible zone from your house by annually clearing the brush away from your home to the standards set by your local Fire Departments. For information about Los Angeles County (which regulates Whittier, La Habra Heights, and Hacienda Heights) fire clearance standards click here.