Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Spare a coyote and...

My culture, that place where my assumptions meet my actions, has always included the readiness, at a second's notice, to destroy a coyote.

Since the crash which followed the "fur boom" I have only recently known anyone who actively hunted them.  You didn't so much as pursue them. They were more like the unexpected bonus that comes with spending time armed and in the field: always in season and always a possibility.

Now let me be honest, I have never killed one but not for lack of readiness. That I've only taken two shots at them in my life is due to the decades I spent living in cities. But they are the reason why, in my youth, men kept rifles behind the seat of their pickup truck, the reason I kept a broadhead I wasn't afraid to waste in my quiver. You always wanted to be ready to kill a coyote. When we first moved into the country, I was always ready to kill a coyote.

I received this behavior as a man-child from the men who raised me up and it was an expression of the times and assumptions of their ecological passions.   Coyotes will prey on young whitetail deer and the 1960's and 70's were a time when the whitetail deer were returning from the brink and restoring themselves to their natural range.  Coyotes did not appear to serve a purpose and hence to kill a coyote was to save a deer.

That reason to shoot coyotes on sight has outlived its usefulness.

In 2015 whitetail deer populations are more than recovered.  There are quite possibly more deer than is healthy for our natural areas or the long-term health of the species itself.  Coyote predation of young deer is minimal and whatever they do consume is a possible benefit to the population as a whole, not a cost. Some hunters are concerned at the amount of deer hair in coyote scat. Being twice as much the scavenger as the predator it is most likely that the hair came from a road kill or otherwise already dead or dying animal. It takes a lot of energy to take down a healthy deer, very little to kill a sick one, and no energy to eat something already dead. I know what the side of the road looks like around me and the math suggests coyotes are doing more cleaning up than killing.

Spare a coyote, kill a dozen cats, save a hundred birds, feed three foxes...
Secondly, numerous studies are reporting similar findings that the presence of coyotes reduces the feral cat population and restrains the predation of outdoor cats to the immediate vicinity around their homes. In other words, coyotes limit the damage done by outdoor cats.

Wisconsin hunters were right when they saw the threat of feral cats not only to wild bird species but to those native predators, fox, raptors, and owls, which compete with them for mice and voles.  
The feline fundamentalist successfully kept Wisconsin hunters from taking direction action on the threat but there is a backdoor approach open to Wisconsin hunters: promote healthy coyote numbers.

Of course my fur hunting friends should continue their pursuit of pelt and maybe when the winter coat is on, even I will take a shot and bringing home a 'yote, especially if the market value gets high enough. For most of us and the remainder of the year, however, the time has come to give that humble canine fill his own role in the ecosystem, the role of limiting damage done by an invasive species we continue to introduce and protect.

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