Culling Coyotes Not the Solution
From the Bangor Daily News

By Camilla H. Fox

Coyotes have become a convenient scapegoat for Maine’s "deer problem." After all, it’s much easier to point the finger at the big, bad coyote than question current forest management practices that adversely affect the size of the deer herd. Wholesale removal of forest cover by corporate landowners such as Plum Creek, combined with naturally occurring heavy snowstorms, leaves thousands of deer without food and shelter.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists report that many deer have died of starvation. As scavengers, coyotes clean up the remains of road- and winter-killed deer, offering a natural ecological service that keeps the roadsides and woods clean. Unfortunately, coyotes’ efficient, natural-born behavior gives extremists a chance to characterize coyotes as bloodthirsty deer killers.

Photo by Trish Carney

Bob Grandchamp, in his Op-Ed "Deer herds the victim of a foreign predator" (BDN, April 9), suggests that the state enact a coyote bounty to "clean out this killer … hellbent on exterminating and consuming our native population of deer." Mr. Grandchamp’s emotional, human-centered view of wild animals and their relationship to each other and the natural environment is shortsighted and unscientific. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, the primary coyote-killing agency, admits that coyote bounties don’t work and are counterproductive.

DIF&W doesn’t offer a bounty but does allow coyotes to be shot, trapped, baited, and hounded year-round in unlimited numbers. Now the DIF&W-sponsored Deer Task Force is advocating for denning, the killing of coyote pups in their dens, and neck snaring, a method that DIF&W acknowledges is inherently indiscriminate that can cause extreme pain and suffering. Not only are such practices ethically repugnant, they don’t work.

Under heavy pressure, coyotes will mate at an earlier age and have larger litters of healthier pups, who will be more likely to survive to breeding age. Beating down the coyote population over the long term would require killing 75 percent of the population every year. Two centuries of persistent persecution has done little to reduce coyote populations or conflicts and has likely selected for a more successful, opportunistic, resilient and adaptable species that some scientists refer to as the supercoyote.

As a top carnivore, coyotes play an undeniably vital role in their ecological communities. They competitively exclude or directly kill foxes, raccoons, skunks and feral cats — smaller predators that affect the number and diversity of ground-nesting birds. They also serve humans by eating rodents in huge numbers and even help keep Canada goose populations down in urban landscapes. Unlike humans, coyotes cull the sick, diseased and weak, thus strengthening the prey gene pool. Human hunters, on the other hand, desire the largest buck with the biggest rack, removing, if at all possible, the strongest and most robust individuals from the gene pool.

Killing coyotes in large numbers can set off ecological chain reactions with profound implications. Yet, even while research continues to highlight the important and complex role coyotes and other top carnivores play in maintaining ecological health and species diversity, many state agencies and extremist sportsmen’s groups continue to promote a view of predators that is stuck in the big-bad-wolf era. In fact, coyotes immigrated into Maine as a direct result of the same anti-predator hysteria — coyotes have successfully filled the niche left open when the wolf was systematically eliminated.

Animals living in the wild operate under their own set of rules governed by the cycles of weather and food availability. Populations fluctuate; predators eat their prey. Unlike deer that, unless culled by predators, generally breed until they exhaust resources and starve, coyotes control their own numbers.

Wild animals shouldn’t be cared for or protected during bad weather or short food years, like cattle and sheep. Imposing human values and emotions on wild animals leads to irrational and misdirected policies. Coyotes are not bad, and deer are not good. They are what they are, and they play important roles in each others’ lives.

We must move beyond the mind-set that views coyotes as evil or unnatural, as Mr. Grandchamp proposes, and recognize that they have much to offer us, not only by keeping ecosystems healthy, but by providing inspiring examples of ingenuity and adaptability in an ever-changing world.

Camilla H. Fox grew up in Maine, holds a master’s degree in wildlife ecology, policy and conservation, and is the co-author of "Coyotes in Our Midst: Learning to Live with an Adaptable & Resilient Carnivore."

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