Urban wildlife is part of the health of San Francisco’s parks—part of the heritage and history of our area. These animals play an important role, enriching our environment. Many wildlife species can’t survive in close proximity to humans, but others have learned to adapt to human encroachment on their territory and live among us as secretive, usually unseen neighbors. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, and coyotes, are often seen in many City neighborhoods and are not always welcome—especially when they’re living in your chimney or attic.

If you need immediate assistance with wildlife in your home or yard, call San Francisco Animal Care & Control at (415) 554-6364 or WildCare, a wildlife rehabilitation center in San Rafael, at (415) 453-1000, x23.

SFROMP (External Link) (San Francisco Rescued Orphan Mammal Program) is another local resource and is a community-supported volunteer organization licensed by the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, which is required to rehabilitate any native wild animal.

Trapping Wildlife

In California, according to the California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Section 465, (G) (1), the law states that animals can only be trapped by a licensed trapper, and animals trapped must be released on site or killed by the trapper.  Trapping and relocating animals is not only illegal, it’s ineffective and inhumane—wildlife that is trapped and relocated does not know where its food and water sources are and usually dies within 2 weeks. Others soon move in from surrounding areas to take its place.

Removing the source that is attracting the animal—food, water, and shelter—is the easiest, cheapest, and most humane long-term solution to the problem. See the CDFW (External Link) site for more information about permits and living peacefully with wildlife in California.

Preventing Wildlife Conflicts
in Your Home/Yard

Peaceful co-existence with our wild neighbors is most successfully achieved by allowing these animals their niche in the urban environment while taking measures to prevent them from becoming a nuisance in your home or garden.


  • Tightly screen all access holes into buildings. Vents, gables, chimneys, eaves, and pipes are all potential entryways for wildlife to set up residence in the attic or under the home.
  • Secure trash in sturdy plastic or metal cans with tightly fitting lids. If necessary, tie the lids down so they won’t become dislodged if the can is tipped over. Wait until the morning of pickup to put trash out.
  • Eliminate food sources such as fallen fruit or unattended pet food, which may attract wildlife. Dog and cat water bowls, swimming pools and ponds have replaced water sources such as creeks and springs. Raccoons are nocturnal animals who roam their neighborhoods each night looking for food. They are opportunistic feeders, dining on insects, fruits, vegetables, acorns, seeds, fish and small mammals, as well as dog and cat food and garbage that is left out overnight.
  • Construct fences and walls high enough to exclude smaller animals. Generally, coyotes won’t scale a fence higher than 6 feet. Installing extenders, which angle outward, to the top of each post and running 2 or 3 strands of wire along the extenders will help ensure that these animals don’t pass over the top. To stop animals from digging under a fence, attach chicken wire to the bottom and bury it at least 6 inches deep and 6 inches outward, parallel to the ground. Burying cinder blocks around the bottom of a fence will also discourage digging.
  • Clear brush, dense ground cover, wood piles, and garden debris where rodents may be living. Reducing the rodent population will eliminate an attractive food source for coyotes and snakes.
  • Protect caged animals such as chickens and rabbits. A hutch which stands above ground should have a solid bottom to prevent your pet from becoming easy prey for a coyote or raccoon. Chicken coops must be extremely secure to prevent predators from climbing over or digging under the structure. Also, remember that the dexterous hands of raccoons can undo many latches.


  • Don’t feed wildlife. Doing so will lure animals from the surrounding hillsides in overwhelming numbers leaving them dependent on you for food and at risk from other humans who may harm them.
  • Don’t corner or try to catch a wild animal. If you come across a wild animal, keep children and pets at a safe distance and leave it alone. Odds are it wants to get away from you as badly as you want it to leave. If the animal appears injured, call your local animal control agency for assistance.
  • Don’t allow pets to roam, especially at night. They may encounter raccoons or other wildlife that may harm them.
  • Don’t set out poison bait. More than likely, the wrong animal will consume it or the dead, poisoned animal will be eaten by a non-target animal, such as a hawk or your dog or cat, and in turn be poisoned themselves. Also, a poisoned animal will frequently die under a building or some other inaccessible area leaving you with an irremovable smelly carcass.
  • Don’t seal an entrance hole in a building or the opening to a den site unless you are certain the animals living there are not present. Make a tracking patch by spreading a thick layer of flour in front of the entrance. When you see paw prints leading away from the opening, it’s usually safe to seal the entrance. Most animals leave their dens at dusk to search for food. If you’re uncertain of the number of animals in the nesting site, try hanging a piece of hardware cloth larger than the opening on the outside. The animals can then swing the hardware cloth outward to escape, but cannot reenter. NEVER seal an entrance during the breeding season (usually March–June); you may trap infant wildlife too young to escape.
  • Don’t try to smoke out an animal that is living in your chimney. It can easily be overcome by smoke and fall into the fire. Try placing a dish of ammonia in the base of the chimney and open the damper. The fumes should force the animal out the top. If an animal is trapped in your chimney, place a thick rope into the chimney, far enough to reach the animal, secure it at the top and leave. Most animals will scale the rope and escape. To prevent animals from getting into the chimney in the first place, install a wire mesh cap over the top.

Other Tips

  • Many animals do not like walking on an unfamiliar surface. Laying chicken wire or plastic sheeting on the ground may discourage an animal from passing through an area where it is unwelcome.
  • To assist an animal which has become trapped in a window well. Lean a rough branch thick enough to support the animal’s weight into the window well. The animal can then use it to climb out.
  • Prevent access to roofs, walls, and trees. Avoid planting creeping vines near walls and keep tree branches trimmed away from buildings.  Animals can nest in or damage roofs. Also, tacking sheet metal around trees or on walls will keep animals from getting the footing they need to climb. The sheet metal should be at least 2 feet wide and attached about 3 feet above ground level.
  • Protect ornamental fish ponds from raccoons. Attach wire mesh (preferably a type that won’t rust) horizontally around the circumference of the pond. It should be at least one foot wide and submerged about 2 to 6 inches. Raccoons cannot reach over the mesh and because it is unstable are unlikely to try standing on it.


Related Links

Coyote Sightings
Project Coyote (External Link)
Raccoons – Coexistence Action Plan (PDF)
Dogs and Raccoons (PDF)
Report Found or Injured Wildlife
WildCare (External Link)
SFROMP (External Link)
California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (External Link)