Wildlife Watch

'Wildlife Watch' logo

Conflicts between humans and wildlife have become common in many urban communities throughout the state. In an effort to reduce these conflicts, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) launched the Wildlife Watch Program in 2015, which is currently being utilized in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

Through networking and training, CDFW assists local government agencies as well as community groups to develop sustainable solutions to human-wildlife conflicts. The approach incorporates key conservation principles and emphasizes respect for one another and respect for wildlife.

What is Wildlife Watch?

The mission of Wildlife Watch is to establish a comprehensive, integrated management strategy for minimizing human-wildlife conflicts and improving the quality of life in urban settings. The approach applies conservation and ecological principles, agency and community leadership coaching and respect for wildlife and one another. 

Wildlife Watch is a multi-agency partnership program that provides support and training to local governments and community groups to help them design and implement their own nuisance wildlife action plans.

The program is intended to reduce human-wildlife conflicts in California’s urban environments by empowering local governments and community groups to proactively address, prevent and manage nuisance wildlife issues in their own neighborhoods.

The program is modeled after the very successful Neighborhood Watch program, in which residents, in coordination with their local law enforcement agencies, join forces to monitor their own communities to prevent crimes from occurring. In the Wildlife Watch program residents join forces with their city and county governments to identify and eliminate wildlife attractants, such as pet food, trash and hiding places, in order to keep wildlife in the wild where they belong.

The program is sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) but is ultimately run and maintained by a network of committed agencies, community groups and individuals who have completed the Wildlife Watch training. The goal is to empower local governments and community groups to take responsibility to reduce human-wildlife conflicts in their own neighborhoods. 

Conservation Coaching

Wildlife Watch has a strong training component referred to as “conservation coaching,” a strategy that helps agencies standardize wildlife conflict policies and procedures and helps them implement educational plans to support them. It emphasizes trust, encouragement, accountability and modeling. It provides factual information on conservation principles that help to replace fear and frustration with teamwork. Conservation coaching is a proactive leadership model to address complacency, providing guidance to agencies and communities that are looking to the future to save time and money, and restore traditional conservation principles.

Wildlife Watch community meeting

CDFW provides conservation coaching on two levels—to both local governments and community groups such as homeowners’ associations:

  • Local government component - consists of identifying a Wildlife Watch coordinator at the city or county level, creating a wildlife management plan, and identifying the roles of each department to implement the plan. For instance, the public works department within city government can help to eliminate hiding places for coyotes by trimming bushes and removing debris piles.
  • Community groups component - consists of identifying and coaching volunteers to act as “block captains” for their neighborhoods to educate residents on wildlife safety, eliminating attractants, hazing, and other wildlife issues. They hold regular meetings, identify wildlife attractants (such as cat food left on a porch), and recommend solutions. They communicate regularly with their local government Wildlife Watch representatives.

Wildlife Watch brings together city, county, state and federal agencies as well as educational organizations, community groups, and individuals with the common goal of becoming better stewards of our state’s wildlife. By involving citizens as well as local government agencies, we increase our capacity to prevent and respond to wildlife incidents.

Why Wildlife Watch?

Human-wildlife conflicts, particularly with coyotes, have worsened over the last two decades in California, resulting in crowds of frustrated citizens demanding solutions from CDFW. After attending dozens of public meetings and listening to citizens’ concerns, CDFW came to the conclusion that the solution involves increased leadership at the agency and community level.

Local government agencies are often unfamiliar with the role of CDFW in responding to human-wildlife conflicts. They mistakenly believe that CDFW is responsible for all nuisance wildlife issues. But this is not the case. CDFW does not have the resources to respond to every sighting of a coyote. CDFW responds when an attack on a human has occurred or is imminent.

coyote with housecat

While some local agencies mistakenly expect CDFW to handle all their human-wildlife conflicts others go out of their way to avoid contacting us. Cities that have adopted “no kill” policies are often hesitant to report attacks to CDFW for fear that we will euthanize the offending animal. However, in the interest of public safety, we want all local governments to report attacks on humans. After an attack, CDFW must arrive on scene quickly in order to collect critical forensic evidence to help locate and remove the offending animal before it finds another victim.

The majority of urban wildlife conflicts are due to animals becoming habituated to humans and human sources of food. Too often we blame wildlife for causing the conflict when in reality the animal is simply responding to our behavior based on our actions, values and morals. When residents leave pet food outdoors and do not secure their garbage cans, they are creating food sources for wildlife. Once an animal identifies an easy food source, it will return again and again to the same area. Animals that become habituated to human sources of food are at risk of losing their natural fear of humans. When wild animals approach people and see them as a food source, the animal can become a public safety threat or be perceived as one.

In California, agencies have the authority to take (kill) wildlife deemed a public safety threat. When wildlife is killed because it has lost fear of humans, we have failed as a society to be responsible stewards of our wildlife. It will take committed leadership at the government and community level to change our behavior.

To become better stewards, we first must agree that urban wildlife conflict is everyone’s responsibility. We then must make the decision as stewards to take responsibility for it. Government agencies can’t solve this problem alone. Support and participation of the public is needed for it to succeed.

What are the Benefits?

  • Improved quality of life in urban areas.
  • Reduction in public safety incidents as well as property and pet loss.
  • Saves agency time, resources and money.
  • Promotes better communication between agencies and the communities they serve.
  • Supports consistency in agency response through effective collaboration and coordination.
  • Creates increased awareness of urban wildlife, reducing complacency while promoting education at all age levels.
  • Community conservation coaches become the eyes and ears of agency personnel, municipalities and public officials. Trained to observe and report, they increase field and administrative time for paid staff allowing them to stay focused on higher priority assignments.
  • Coaches are empowered by their ability to give back their talents to the community, not by the position they are entrusted with.

What is the Vision of Wildlife Watch

  • To empower people to respect wildlife through the understanding of ecology and conservation principles.
  • To reduce wildlife conflict while improving the quality of life.
  • To promote a T-E-A-M environment based on Trust, Encouragement, Accountability and Modeling by collaborating interdependently rather than by competing independently.
  • To teach conservation and ecological principles based on facts not feelings, seeking first to understand and then be understood.
  • To develop a network of relationships between communities and agencies entrusted to manage and protect our wildlife resources and its people, demonstrating effective stewardship.
  • To value and respect each other’s differences regarding how to respond to and manage wildlife conflicts.
  • To encourage empathy and compassion for those who have lost pets or who feel threatened by urban wildlife, paying attention and listening to understand the speaker's words, intent and feelings.
  • To recognize that entitlement and anthropomorphism (putting human traits on animals) has changed how we relate to our wildlife resources in the urban environment.
  • To implement a train-the-trainer teaching approach allowing the public and agencies to share information through integrated communication.
  • To develop a first-of-its-kind program in California that is used as a model nationwide.

What is Agency Coaching?

Agency coaching is a system of coaching that guides an agency or municipality through a leadership process in understanding ecology and conservation principles as it applies to urban wildlife conflict. Each division within the city has the responsibility of developing their part of the plan and communicating their role to the different divisions within their agency. Each division within the agency has a role to lead from the top management officials to entry level positions. Success is determined by how well their plan is implemented and communicated or passed on to other divisions decreasing urban wildlife conflict within communities. The process is comprehensive and synergistic. As the agency lead people are coached, they will take the information and teach employees within their division what their roles and responsibilities are keeping the plan simple but well organized.

Agency coaching involves integrating the human dimension (inner coaching) with performance (outer coaching).

Inner coaching requires employees developing their skills to work effectively as a T-E-A-M focusing on their ability to:

  • Trust each other’s work (ability to work together transparently to achieve goals)
  • Encourage each other (starts with an inner desire to help another, being kind and humble)
  • Accountable (agreement to hold each other accountable to complete a task)
  • Model (able to model performance to the public and others within the agency)

It’s about developing interpersonal skills with a positive attitude and feeling good about being part of a team to achieve a worthwhile goal while reducing each-others work load.

Outer coaching (Performance coaching) involves applying inner-coaching skills with conservation and ecological principles that are learned and reinforced as they coach others. An example is, knowing the four basics needs of urban wildlife (food, water, habitat/shelter and space) and teaching another how to remove or minimize these attractants in a given area to reduce wildlife conflict.

This form of coaching is done by CDFW staff at a meeting that is set up by the agency. The agency agrees to have one person represented from each of their divisions or branches. The goal is for each division or branch representative to understand what their role is through communication, coordination, cooperation and collaboration.

Communication – The agreement to share thoughts, ideas and information. Communication need not require face-to-face interaction, but can be accomplished through letters, telephone calls, reports, or email. Communication requires a message, sender and a receiver.

Coordination – This is critical to creating and sustaining partnerships and citizen involvement. The amount or nature of interaction can cover a range of activities such as arranging for Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) or helping to arrange an event.

Cooperation – This occurs when two or more communicating individuals or groups agree to help each other with tasks.

Collaboration – An intense level of partnership based on a model of sharing power for attaining a common goal.

More Information or Get Started?

For more information - or to start your own Wildlife Watch program - please contact:

  • Kent Smirl: (714) 448-4215  
  • Dave Dodge: (714) 390-1033