Why killing coyotes never works by Ed Boks

Allen “Big Al” Morris has a record four World titles. – Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi/NPR

NPR’s All Things Considered recently published an article, Coyotes In The Crosshairs describing how over the past century killing coyotes has become a competitive game that today is celebrated in the World Championship Coyote Calling Contest.

The article details how the blood-thirst for coyotes originated with “the arrival of European-American settlers in the early 1800s.  Coyotes and wolves took the opportunity to expand their diet to livestock. And for decades, the federal government actively encouraged the extermination of predators.  That policy pushed wolves to the brink of extinction, but the wily coyote managed to thrive and spread pretty much everywhere. To this day, the government hires hunters to manage coyote populations and protect livestock in many states. And around 70 years ago, ranchers started to host coyote-hunting competitions.”  

Ultimate Goal: eradication

Indeed, humans nearly exterminated the wolf in the last century, but the coyote has proven a real survivor.

Coyotes are now the principal wild canine in America, despite man’s best efforts to eliminate them through trapping, shooting, and poisoning over the past 150 years.  Harried, dislocated and hunted, coyotes nonetheless flourish.

Unrecognized, it seems, by proponents of these traditional conservation strategies is the fact that killing coyotes results in more coyotes, not less.  The reason for this is that Mother Nature provided the coyote with a powerful survival mechanism.  When stressed, a biological imperative is triggered resulting in larger litters of coyote pups – ensuring their survival.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Even if we wanted to kill all the coyotes in a designated area, history shows the vacancy never lasts.   The larger litters rebuild the population and, with no rivals to keep them at bay, coyotes from the surrounding areas quickly move in.

The end result of these futile eradication efforts is always the same:  the area is quickly overrun with new, and often more, coyotes.

This survival mechanism is why coyotes – once largely confined to the southwestern corner of the continental U.S. – can now be found from L.A.’s Griffith Park to New York’s Central Park, from the snows of Alaska to the sultry plains of Florida. Threatened by human expansion, they find new homes wherever it was convenient.

Wiley Neighbor

Since our expanding cities keep eating up habitat we’re destined to live with the urban, or suburban, coyote.  But that shouldn’t be too much trouble. Coyotes are afraid of humans and almost never attack them. The most reliable estimates assert that there have been fewer than 300 coyote attacks ever recorded resulting in human injuries, most involving small children. Since three million children are bitten by dogs every year, a child is considerably more likely to be hurt by the family pet than a coyote.  Still, if you live in known coyote country, don’t let your young children take unnecessary risks, especially at night.

Advice to pet owners

Dog owners should also know that unspayed female dogs in heat will attract male coyotes, and they can mate with them.  Likewise, unneutered male dogs can be lured by the scent of a female coyote, and there have been cases of such a lothario being killed by males in the coyote pack.  Fixing your dog fixes this part of the problem.

Dogs in coyote territory should also be kept on a leash that’s no longer than six feet to avoid unnecessary entanglements.  Cats should be indoors at all times, and dogs too whenever feasible.  Cats and small dogs are especially vulnerable to the attacks of hungry coyotes and common sense suggests prudent caution be taken in areas where coyotes live.

Understanding our Wiley Neighbors…

Coyotes are wild animals. They are smart, fast — they can sprint up to 40 mph — and agile – they can jump or climb very tall fences. They will take what they can get, day or night.  Leaving pet food outside or leaving trash containers open encourages them to visit your house frequently. You should never feed coyotes.

Traditional Conservation

Our ill-informed ambivalence towards coyotes is reflected in our laws.  For instance, Title 14 California Code of Regulations Sect. 465.5 states a trapped coyote must either be euthanized or released immediately on site. However, the law allows sick or injured coyotes to be taken for rehabilitation, but requires healthy coyotes to be killed if caught and not immediately released at the location where trapped.

Bottom Line

If you don’t like your local coyotes, remember this:  An area with coyotes is never overrun with rodents — a lesson learned by Klamath County, Oregon in 1947.  After attempting to eradicate their coyote population, they soon found themselves infested by rodents, experiencing the poetic truth that ―you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.