Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Virginia County Raises the Bounty on Coyotes

Cumberland County, in central Virginia, has raised the bounty on coyotes to $50 for each one killed.

Bounties for coyote control have had mixed results in Virginia. Halifax County is satisfied with the success of its program, but Nottoway County dropped its bounty after about a year because officials didn't feel it was effective.

Biologists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture say coyotes are in every county in Virginia, and that a bounty program is not the way to go as it is indiscriminate slaughter that does not properly the target the very narrow problem.

Two years ago Cumberland County had three baby goats killed by coyotes, but now farmers say they attribute as many as 30 calf deaths to coyote predation last year.

To lower loses, the Dept. of Agricutlure recommends using an integrated approach that includes fencing, quard animals such as dogs and llamas, and targeting killing of those select coyotes that are actually attacking livestock.



jdege said...

There are species that excessive hunting could put at risk. Coyotes aren't one of them.

Every day a hunter spends hunting coyotes is a day he's not hunting something else.

So encouraging people to hunt coyotes should relieve hunting pressure on other species.

Anonymous said...

Really, if we can't have wolves here in the Northeast, what IS the downside of coyotes?

My collegue who raise goats says that as long as she puts the kids in a pen at night, she hasn't had a predation problems. Of course, she also has a Grand Pyrenees.

I am a big fan of both llamas and guardian dogs -- there seem to be a glut of guardian breeds in rescue and I hear glowing stories from my livestock collegues who have great results even from dogs that never saw a herding animal before being pulled from rescue -- it really does seem to be a "summoning of the genetics" as McCraig (sp?) says about Border Collies -- the dogs are happy, the herd is safe and happy and the grower is happy because the family can sleep at night.

Meanwhile varmits (including the white-tailed deer -- even if it's just fawns) get eaten. I'm just not seeing a downside here. . .


PBurns said...

As odd as it sounds, I agree with both of you, more or less.

Point one is that hunting at current levels does not seem to have hurt the coyotes as jdege has noted. In fact, we shoot, trap or poison about 500,000 coyotes a year in this country, and their numbers keep rising. They are a vey fecund and adaptive species, and their numbers seem to be stable or rising everywhere.

As to whether coyotes are good for the environment, or otherwise beneficial, the jury is out. As a general rule, they seem to be neutral to very-slightly positive. For those raising medium-sized stock (sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, geese, ducks) of course, they are a disaster (see step one, hunting and trapping), and they can also be a very serious problem for small dogs and cats left in back yards (fencing, larger dogs, and monitoring-when-out may be required).

That said, most people are not raising small stock, and coyotes mostly eat a lot farther down the food chain that people realize. Like fox, they mostly live on mice and rats, with the addition of road-kill and hunter's carcasses, possum, rabbits, frogs, snakes, groundhogs, chipmunks, squirrels, the occassional nesting duck and geese, the occassional turkey, the occassional fawn, and a lot more vegetative matter and trash than most people realize. Adult deer are a very small part of their diet, and most of that is probably roadkill. Raccoon and fox will be killed if they can catch them and manage it, but most coyote are not that large. Yes a 40- or even 50-pound coyote is possible, but 25 and 30 pounders are more common, and most wild animals are extremely risk-averse. Remember, one serious cut, lost canine tooth, broken bone, or infection, and a wild animal is probably soon dead. This information is deeply encoded in the genes of wild predators, which is why they tend to eat down the food chain and rarely operate at-capacity.

I seriously doubt the coyote-blamed cattle loss in Virginia. It's very common, with both sheep and cattle, for farmers to blame all stock loss on predation, when in fact the predator is just as likely to have been scavenging an already-dead animal. Newborns that fail to thrive can fade out overnight, and it does not take much to get a downer calf. I am not saying a pack of coyotes cannot take out a calf, but I am saying that I would really look for flowing blood and other signs of a live-animal struggle before I would count it as such.

The problem with coyotes in Virginia is the already-real prospect of rabid coyotes. A rabid eastern coyote is sufficiently large and crazy enough to be a very serious public health problem; a nightmare on four legs, actually. Think that through, and it gives you pause. That said, the solution to rabies in wildlife is not killing all the wildlife; it's aerial bating of rabies vaccine. That works, and that is being done.

Hunting coyotes does not do much to remove hunting pressure on other animals because there is very little hunting pressure on other animals, at least not in most of the U.S. east of the Mississippi. Deer, turkey, and geese are among the most common species hunted, and they are at record levels and a nuisance in a lot of places. In fact, in this immediate area (shotgun only), deer are unlimited take in season -- shoot as many as you want. Abatement licenses are generally granted to orchards on request, and the numbers shot can be sobering. If coyote-hunting reduced deer hunting, that would be bad. But it doesnt. There are relatively few coyote hunters in the East, and those coyotes that are shot tend to be by-kill from deer and turkey hunting.

Having said that there is no real threat to coyote numbers from hunting, does not mean that indiscriminate slaughter of the animal is needed, necessary or logical. In fact, most coyote do very little harm to man or anyone else, and can be left alone to clean up the dead and otherwise grab what they can on the margins of existence.

Problem coyote, of course, need to be shot and trapped, and let's do that. In sheep and goat country and areas (a very small amount of land in the U.S.) shooting and trapping on sight might be wise, but that leaves 99.95% of all land unaffected.


Onewhoknows said...

Guard dogs are fine a good... HOWEVER... there is an increasing problem with PEOPLE getting in the way of a dog that has been trained to protect the flock, herd, etc. There is a woman in Colorado that was attacked by a two great Pyrenees that were guarding cattle. She started screaming which brought in the dogs and was mauled. Whose fault is it? The dogs got blamed and put down, now how does the rancher protect his herd?

PBurns said...

Yes, I heard about the Colorado woman. An odd set of circumstances and a BAD decision by the judge. I doubt it will happen again very soon (if ever).

In my part of the world where we have sheep, you would be considered a very strange duck to be running over the countryside, and NO judge would care what happens to you if the stock dogs turned to protect the flock. God Bless Virginia, land that I love ;)