A long and emotional debate is expected Wednesday night when the Los Angeles Board of Animal Regulation Commissioners meets in Woodland Hills to decide whether to continue a nine-month ban on coyote trapping.
The long-anticipated meeting will climax months of verbal jousting between wildlife conservationists, who oppose the trapping as inhumane, and residents, mostly from the West San Fernando Valley, who support trapping to protect pets and small children.
"Frankly, we are expecting a very, very large turnout," said Michael Lazarou, a Woodland Hills resident who formed a Valley homeowners group that wants the city to lift the trapping ban. "I wouldn't be surprised if it were standing room only."
The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. at Parkman Middle School, 20800 Burbank Blvd. in Woodland Hills.
A previous hearing on the matter became so emotional that several speakers came close to tears and one man was escorted away by security officers after he accused an animal regulation officer of wrongdoing for shooting a coyote.
Warring between the pro- and anti-trapping groups began almost immediately after the Board of Animal Regulation Commissioners decided in June to halt coyote trapping. The decision was partly in response to pressure from wildlife advocates. But commissioners said later that the $100,000 annual cost of the trapping program was also key to their decision.
Since then, increased coyote sightings, particularly in the hillside neighborhoods of the West Valley, have prompted board members to review the ban. Animal regulation officers attribute the increase in sightings to the abundance of food and small wildlife, the trapping ban and wildfires that drove coyotes into urban areas.
In their battle to sway the panel, both sides have contacted city officials, issued press releases and collected signatures on petitions. The debate has sparked so much interest that the ABC news program "20/20" aired a segment on the coyote trapping controversy.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson from each side will be given 15 minutes to present their arguments. Other speakers from the public will be allowed one minute each to speak.
Michael Bell, an Encino resident and vice president of the Wildlife Protection League, will speak in favor of keeping the ban in place. He has argued that preventive measures, such as bringing pets indoors and fencing back yards, will address the coyote problem in a more humane and effective way than trapping.
By law, coyotes that are trapped must be killed. State law also prohibits the city from relocating coyotes to other areas.
Bell said his group has presented the city a petition with 8,000 signatures and plans to present at least 300 more signatures Wednesday. In addition to the signatures, Bell said wildlife experts will testify in favor of continuing the ban.
Malvin Sumner, a longtime Woodland Hills resident, will speak in favor of lifting the ban. In the past, he has argued that the city should use traps to protect pets and children from the few "problem" coyotes that enter urban neighborhoods in search of food.
Also expected to speak is the mother of a young girl who was allegedly killed by a coyote in Glendale in 1981. Lazarou, who says his toddler son was stalked by a coyote in his back yard in December, will also speak.