For decades, ranchers have killed coyotes. Recreational hunters chip away at their numbers. The federal government, under the auspices of its mellifluously monikered Wildlife Services Agency, subsidizes the execution of thousands of predators a year most of them coyotes. Yet the quick-breeding and adaptable coyote has survived and thrived.
Today, wildlife managers are faced with too many coyotes. Because of that, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the agency charged with protecting the state's wildlife, has decided to get into the coyote-killing business. Its reasoning is that killing coyotes will help anemic mule deer herds that have suffered in recent years. While conventional wisdom holds that coyotes prey on deer, science is less sure. In the fall of 1999, a study of mule deer herds in Colorado by the DOW declared that coyote predation was not a major factor.
A newly commissioned DOW study may lend some scientific credibility to conventional wisdom, though I am sure the researchers will find that other factors such as increased elk populations, decreased winter range and more road traffic and therefore road kill are all important pieces of the puzzle.
More troubling is the suggestion of an advisory panel that the Wildlife Commission use aerial gunning to control the coyote population. In a state that has already banned trapping and poisoning, air attack is one of the few remaining alternatives. The Wildlife Commission has wisely elected not to use aerial gunning in the first year of the study, but has left the door open after that. Hopefully, somebody will put an end to this foolish scheme before it gets off the ground.
A far better, and cheaper, solution would be to reintroduce the bounty on coyotes. Under such a program, anyone with a dead coyote (or just proof of a dead coyote, thanks) collects a monetary reward.
Some people might argue that controlling coyotes is wrong. But it is far easier to kill a predator than to stop the encroachment of condominiums onto winter range or reduce traffic on roads at night. While it is possible, and sometimes cost-effective, to compensate ranchers for stock losses, there is no way to compensate anyone for dead deer.
Tim Fitzgerald is a contributor to Writers on the Range. He makes his living in Colorado as a cowboy, guide and outfitter.