California Outdoors Q&A

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  • August 10, 2023
a beige coyote in natural grassy habitat

Coyote ID

Q: How can I tell the difference between a coyote, fox and a wolf?

A: Coyotes (Canis latrans) are highly adaptable animals that can be found in a variety of habitats throughout Central and North America. Of all the wild canids in California, there are typically more coyotes in urban and suburban environments. They have adapted to surviving, and often thriving, alongside humans in many California communities. They are often confused with domesticated dogs, foxes and gray wolves.

Coyotes are larger than foxes but smaller than gray wolves. They typically weigh between 10 to 35 pounds with a shoulder height of 18 to 23 inches. A coyote’s coat is usually a mixture of brown, gray and tan with black strands. Coyotes have a bushy tail with a black tip that usually hangs downward. Coyotes are significantly smaller than wolves and have a sleeker build, narrower snout, smaller paws and proportionally larger, more pointed ears than those of a wolf.

Foxes are smaller than coyotes and have smaller, more pointed snouts. Identifying coyote pups can be challenging because they can look like baby foxes, called kits. However, coyote pups are usually larger than fox kits and have larger and more rounded snouts. California is home to gray fox, island fox, red fox and kit fox.

Each year, typically during spring and summer, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) receives reports of coyote pups that have been misidentified as orphaned or “stray” domesticated puppies and taken from their habitat. Separating a coyote pup from its mother can be detrimental. Once separated from its family group, a coyote pup may not learn natural healthy behaviors and the survival skills necessary to be safely returned to the wild. If you come across a coyote or other wildlife, it’s best to leave it alone and contact your CDFW regional office.

To learn more visit CDFW’s Keep Me Wild: Coyote web page or this fact sheet on Distinguishing Between Coyotes, Wolves and Dogs (PDF).

Wildlife Watch

Q: How do I get my community involved in CDFW’s Wildlife Watch program?

A: Wildlife Watch is an educational outreach program designed to help communities co-exist with wildlife. The Wildlife Watch team works with local communities and organizations to develop wildlife management plans. These plans often include outreach to neighbors and community members on how to minimize human-wildlife conflict with coyotes, racoons, bears, mountain lions, wild pigs, turkeys and other wildlife that live amongst us. This often involves teaching neighbors to minimize or eliminate attractants such as pet food and unsecured trash. Plans may also incorporate humane and proactive use of nonlethal deterrents and nonlethal corrective actions.

If you’re interested in bringing Wildlife Watch to your community, reach out to the city manager or assistant city manager where you live. If you need assistance making that connection or identifying the right contact, please contact Human Dimensions of Wildlife Conservation Research Scientist Alex Heeren at

Wildlife Watch works with all types of local jurisdictions including cities, counties, towns and townships. They also work with local organizations such as councils of governments. CDFW encourages people from any type of community or neighborhood organization to reach out to see if Wildlife Watch is a fit!

Beaver policy

Q: I was reading about CDFW’s new policy on beaver depredation. How does the new policy differ from CDFW’s previous stance on beaver management?

A: CDFW has always recognized the ecological and intrinsic value of beavers as a native species, and the new policy aligns CDFW with the nature-based role beavers play in aiding habitat management, ecosystem restoration and increasing resiliency to climate change and wildfire.

The new policy takes into consideration the role of beavers as ecosystem engineers and aligns with our increased understanding of nature-based solutions and individual species impacts. The new policy guides how CDFW staff respond to beaver depredation complaints and the issuance of depredation permits, which are (and already were) required for the take of beavers causing property damage. The new policy also promotes non-lethal deterrents that can prevent or reduce damage from beaver activity. In California, beavers are classified as furbearers. As of 2020, they may no longer be trapped for recreational or commercial purposes. Any owner or tenant of land or property that is being damaged or destroyed, or is in danger of being damaged or destroyed, may apply to CDFW for a lethal or nonlethal depredation permit to take the offending animals, per California Fish and Game Code section 4181.

Free Fishing

Q: I live in another state. If I’m visiting California, can I participate in one of CDFW’s free fishing days?

A: Yes, you can! CDFW offers two free fishing days per year when anyone can fish without purchasing a fishing license. California Fish and Game Code section 7149.7 allows both residents and nonresidents to fish on these days without a sportfishing license and without payment of any fee. Note that all other rules and regulations applicable to the holder of a sportfishing license apply. These include season restrictions, size and bag limits, tags and tagging requirements, fishing hours, stream closures and report card requirements.

CDFW’s next free fishing day is Saturday, Sept. 2. Free fishing days are an amazing, low-cost opportunity to give fishing a try. CDFW’s Fishing in the City Program offers in-person clinics that teach fishing fundamentals to aspiring anglers in metropolitan areas.


Categories: General