FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Coyote Killing is Counter Productive

In June, four environmental groups prevailed in a lawsuit against the euphemistically named federal killing agency known as Wildlife Services. The U.S. District Court for Idaho ruled that Wildlife Services had not adequately studied the impacts on wildlife of its predator-killing activities in the state. The court is formulating a remedy.

The plaintiffs asserted that Wildlife Services’ lethal control of coyotes and other predators at the behest of the livestock industry (and sometimes hunters) is based upon political expediency, not sound science.

A litany of scientific studies demonstrates that lethal methods are ineffective at controlling coyotes because they disrupt the animals’ social ecology and ultimately fail to reduce predation losses.

Wildlife Services is a secretive taxpayer-supported federal agency whose prime purpose is to kill wildlife. It uses a host of cruel methods to kill coyotes, including trapping, poison, hunting, aerial gunning and snares, all based on the flawed assumption that such procedures will reduce coyote predation on livestock, as well as huntable species like deer. Ironically, such control measures increase the likelihood of predation.

In a sense, Wildlife Services control begets more coyotes and more predation, thus creating a circular feedback mechanism that creates political support for continued agency funding. In other words, Wildlife Services does not want to see coyote predation reduced since the more predation it can create by its activities, the more funding support it receives.

The basic issue is that Wildlife Services ignores coyote social ecology.

A breeding pair of coyotes will stake out and defend a territory. If unmolested, a breeding pair will have pups and form a pack of up to 10 individuals. Each pack has a dominant breeding pair. Other adults are behaviorally “sterile” and do not breed.

This has implications for coyote control, because in areas with heavy coyote mortality, these typically “sterile” females are released and can breed.

In addition to pack members, there are always random individuals known as floaters, which usually do not maintain a territory but are available to breed if the dominant breeders are killed. These floaters form a reservoir of replacement breeders should a breeding coyote be killed.

In addition to these behavioral controls on breeding, in unexploited coyote populations that are near the saturation point in terms of food availability, many pups die of starvation and never reach maturity. In exploited populations, a greater number of pups will survive into adulthood, often negating any losses from Wildlife Services’ control efforts.

A further limit on coyote livestock predation is due to learned behavior. Coyotes, like most predators, are reluctant to sample “new” food. If they are not preying upon livestock, they are unlikely to begin. However, in exploited populations, young orphaned coyotes must fend for themselves and in desperation will prey upon livestock and become livestock killers.

To be successful at reducing coyote populations, a minimum of 70 percent of the population must be killed on a sustained basis. That is almost never achieved, and a vacant territory is quickly filled by floating individuals, or by a nearby pack.

Furthermore, due to extreme competition for food and territories, there are compensatory mechanisms that quickly repopulate any vacant space.

First, more females breed. Second, due to reduced competition for food, a greater percentage of pups survive and mature into adults. Finally, in exploited populations, female coyotes breed at a younger age. All those mechanisms ensure that coyote numbers seldom decline for any significant period.

Livestock grazing can also lead to more coyote predation by reducing cover for the preferred prey of mice and voles, which results in lower small-mammal populations.

Exploited coyote populations also have fewer adults in a pack to feed pups, thus are more likely to attack the easier prey available—which often is domestic animals.

In the end, the only alternative that is effective is nonlethal measures such as guard animals, corralling livestock at night and herding. Indeed, in some California counties, tax dollars that previously went to Wildlife Services were used for nonlethal methods, resulting in lower predation losses and lower costs.

It’s time to put the Wildlife Services killing machine out of business, and to put more responsibility upon ranchers to manage their animals in a way that reduces predator opportunity.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

Weekend Edition
February 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Timothy M. Gill
Why is the Venezuelan Government Rejecting U.S. Food Supplies?
John Pilger
The War on Venezuela is Built on Lies
Andrew Levine
Ilhan Omar Owes No Apologies, Apologies Are Owed Her
Jeffrey St. Clair
That Magic Feeling: the Strange Mystique of Bernie Sanders
David Rosen
Will Venezuela Crisis Split Democrats?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
Curtain Call: A Response to Edward Curtin
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump’s National Emergency Is The Exact Same As Barack Obama’s National Emergency
Paul Street
Buried Alive: The Story of Chicago Police State Racism
Rob Seimetz
Imagined Communities and Omitting Carbon Emissions: Shifting the Discussion On Climate Change
Ramzy Baroud
Russian Mediation: The Critical Messages of the Hamas-Fatah Talks in Moscow
Michael Welton
Dreaming Their Sweet Dreams: a Peace to End Peace
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming’s Monster Awakens
Huma Yasin
Chris Christie Spins a Story, Once Again
Ron Jacobs
Twenty-First Century Indian Wars
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Venezuela: a Long History of Hostility
Lance Olsen
Climate and Money: a Tale of Two Accounts
Louis Proyect
El Chapo and the Path Taken
Fred Gardner
The Rise of Kamala Harris
John W. Whitehead
Rule by Fiat: National Crises, Fake Emergencies and Other Dangerous Presidential Powers
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Biomass is Not “Green”: an Interview With Josh Schlossberg
John Feffer
Answering Attacks on the Green New Deal
W. T. Whitney
US Racism and Imperialism Fuel Turbulence in Haiti
Kim Ives
How Trump’s Attacks on Venezuela Sparked a Revolution in Haiti
Mike Ferner
What War Films Never Show You
Lawrence Wittner
Should the U.S. Government Abide by the International Law It Has Created and Claims to Uphold?
James Graham
A Slow Motion Striptease in France
Dave Lindorff
Could Sanders 2.0 Win It All, Getting the Democratic Nomination and Defeating Trump?
Jill Richardson
Take It From Me, Addiction Doesn’t Start at the Border
Yves Engler
Canada and the Venezuela Coup Attempt
Tracey L. Rogers
We Need a New Standard for When Politicians Should Step Down
Gary Leupp
The Sounds of Silence
Dan Bacher
Appeals Court Rejects Big Oil’s Lawsuit Against L.A. Youth Groups, City of Los Angeles
Robert Koehler
Are You White, Black or Human?
Ralph Nader
What are Torts? They’re Everywhere!
Sarah Schulz
Immigrants Aren’t the Emergency, Naked Capitalism Is
James Campbell
In the Arctic Refuge, a Life Force Hangs in the Balance
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Corregidor’s Iconography of Empire
Jonah Raskin
The Muckraking Novelist Dashiell Hammett: A Red Literary Harvest
Kim C. Domenico
Revolutionary Art and the Redemption of the Local
Paul Buhle
Life and Crime in Blue Collar Rhode Island
Eugene Schulman
J’Accuse!
Nicky Reid
Zionists are the Most Precious Snowflakes
Jim Goodman
The Green New Deal Outlines the Change Society Needs
David Yearsley
The Political Lyre
Cesar Chelala
The Blue Angel and JFK: One Night in Camelot
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail