Proposed Pennsylvania Coyote Slaughter

Across the river from New Jersey, Pennsylvania politicians are trying to put a bounty on coyotes. Under legislation passed by Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, the state would pay hunters $25 for each coyote killed. Currently, Pennsylvania allows hunters to kill as many coyotes as they wish at any time of the year. Unlike most animals, coyotes are not even afforded protection during the period they rear offspring. Undoubtedly, many puppies are left to die when their parents are killed. In fact, the already lax hunting regulations on Pennsylvania coyotes results in the killing of 40,000 coyotes each year. To put this in perspective, New Jersey shelters only killed 4,643 dogs and 22,067 cats in 2012. Thus, coyotes are already under assault in Pennsylvania even without this law.

Killing Coyotes is Almost Like Killing Dogs

Coyotes and dogs are very closely related. In fact, both animals can interbreed. Most of the behaviors you see in your dog are exhibited by coyotes, such as whining, barking, licking, etc. Coyotes are of course much more elusive and self-sufficient, but otherwise they are quite similar to man’s best friend. If it is morally wrong to shoot stray dogs posing no danger to people, why is a state encouraging the killing of such a similar animal?

Eastern Coyote Origins

The eastern coyote’s arrival in our area is a fascinating story. Prior to the European settlement of North America, the two most important large predators were the eastern wolf and the cougar. Along with Native Americans, these predators kept whitetail deer populations at healthy levels.  While scientists debate whether the eastern wolf is a separate species or just a race of gray wolf, the eastern wolf was a smaller and sleeker animal adept at preying on fleet prey. Upon arriving in North America, Europeans hunted and killed eastern wolves and cougars and converted their wooded habitat to farmland. As a result, no large wild cat or dog was left in eastern North America.

During the 20th century, coyotes from the western United States migrated east. Historically, coyote numbers were restricted by gray wolves who occasionally killed coyotes and often displaced them from productive areas. Upon the extinction of the gray wolf over much of the continental United States, coyotes migrated east. Interestingly, coyotes interbred with remnant eastern wolf populations in southeastern Canada and then migrated into the northeast. Additionally, purer coyotes also penetrated the northeast from Ohio. Eastern coyotes with some eastern wolf genes are larger, have more impressive craniodental morphology, and therefore can take larger prey. Nonetheless, eastern coyotes still retain mostly coyote genes based on this study and this study and are therefore a far cry from the large wolves we see on nature documentaries. Typically, eastern coyotes average about 30-40 pounds.

Eastern Coyotes Serve a Vital Service

Eastern coyotes provide an invaluable service in keeping ecosystems healthy. With the elimination of eastern wolves, cougars and Native Americans, whitetail deer numbers exploded. Pennsylvania deer densities approximate 30 deer per square mile today compared to only 8-10 deer per square mile prior to European settlement. Overly abundant deer devastate ecosystems resulting in reduced songbird populations and diversity of plant and animal species. Unnaturally large deer populations also cause more vehicle collisions and damage to homeowners properties. Eastern coyotes are the most significant remaining predator of whitetail deer and killing this predator in droves makes no ecological sense.

Coyotes also may control other overly abundant species due to human alteration of habitats. Canadian geese, which are viewed as a nuisance and a potential source of disease may have their populations limited by coyotes.  Additionally, a study of a program eradicating coyotes in a small area found rodent species exploded and the diversity of rodent species declined.  Thus, killing coyotes who are playing a vital role in the ecosystem makes no sense.

Eastern Coyotes are Great Neighbors

Eastern coyotes are excellent neighbors and cause few problems. In Pennsylvania, coyotes only take “a few dozen” sheep out of around 100,000 sheep found in the state. This equates to less than 1/10 of 1 percent of all the sheep in the state. Undoubtedly, those numbers would decrease even more if simple steps to protect these sheep were undertaken. While coyotes may kill some outdoor cats and the occasional small dog, no evidence exists this is significant. In fact, Pennsylvania Representative Mike Peifer, who introduced the coyote bounty bill, based the proposed legislation on “anecdotal accounts” of people losing pets to coyotes. Do anecdotal accounts justify the slaughter of 40,000 or more coyotes? I think not.

In reality, eastern coyotes make great efforts to avoid people. The PBS Nature episode, “Meet the Coywolf”, showed coyotes living in suburbia using creative means to avoid people despite living right next to them. For example, coyotes often were active late at night while people slept and even slept near highway entrance and exit ramps during the day where people rarely visited.

Coyote Control and Bounty Program are Counterproductive

Coyote control programs have never been successful and may actually create more problems. Historically, coyote populations were suppressed by gray wolves through occasional killing and displacement from prime habitats. As a result, coyotes developed a tremendous ability to compensate. Arguably, this adaptability increased further after humans killed coyotes on a large scale during the last 150 years.

Coyotes thwart population control programs in numerous way. First, the killed coyotes are often quickly replaced by immigrants from nearby areas.  Second, the short-term reduction in coyote density increases food availability to remaining coyotes and results in larger litters and more puppies surviving to adulthood. Coyote control programs decrease the number of older coyotes in groups and force the remaining coyotes to become more bold to obtain food for puppies. Therefore, coyotes may more likely hunt larger animals (such as domestic sheep or deer) and venture into human settlements and cause conflict. Puppies may learn this behavior from their parents creating a culture of more problematic coyotes. Also, coyote control programs cause more young adults in existing packs, which are not breeding, to form new packs and breed. As a result, more coyotes produce puppies which compensates for the increased mortality from hunting/trapping. Additionally, the number of adolescent coyotes in the population increase, who like human teenagers, are more likely to get into trouble. The end result of these coyote control efforts are no change in the coyote population, and possibly an increase, as well as coyotes more likely to cause problems.

Bounties are especially ineffectual.  People may claim the bounty even though they killed a coyote from another state. Historically, bounty programs never worked and were largely a waste of money ($700,000 in the case of Pennsylvania’s proposed program). This is why even the pro-hunting Pennsylvania Game Commission fur biologist Tom Hardisky opposes this bill:

“They’ve been proven to not work. At least 50 to 60 years ago we ended the bounty system [in Pennsylvania],” said Hardisky. “With bounties you don’t manage a species, you wipe it out, and there are repercussions on every other species. It’s happened over and over. There’s often fraud and the waste of taxpayer money. There is no science behind wildlife bounties.”

Similarly, the pro-hunting outdoor columnist and former Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Roger Latham expressed similar sentiments:

“According to the many, many surveys and studies made, the payment of bounties on the smaller predators is one of the most inefficient and ineffective methods of all,” wrote Latham.  Fraud is synonymous with all bounty systems. Animals are brought in from other states and even other countries and pawned off on untrained officials.”

The reality is coyotes like most large predators regulate their own numbers. Coyote numbers are limited by their prey and also by their own kind through territoriality. If a coyote cannot win control over a territory, it will likely not successfully breed. Thus, coyotes do not need hunting to limit their numbers.

Bounty Nothing More Than a Tool To Appease Lazy Hunters

Despite Pennsylvania Representative Peifer’s claims about pet safety, the real reason for his bill is to appease hunters. Peifer is an avid “outdoorsman” and surely has a huge hunting constituency in the Pocono region he represents. It is far easier for a hunter to blame coyotes for their failures than to get better at their craft. As is typical even with certain minority human populations, coyotes are scapegoated.

The following quote by Peifer shows how misguided this individual is:

“Aside from during the February coyote derbies, nobody goes out hunting for coyotes,” he said. “When a bow hunter sees one, he doesn’t want to shoot it and ruin his chance to take a buck; bear hunters don’t want to spoil the drive by stopping to shoot a coyote. Hunters like to eat what they kill, and you can’t eat coyotes so they don’t shoot them.

“What this [bill] does is incentivize the killing of more coyotes, get hunters to take an interest in hunting this species that has grown out of control.”

Nobody in Pennsylvania kills coyotes? Tell that to the 40,000 individual coyotes slaughtered each year. No, coyote numbers are not out of control. In fact, predator populations are too low as shown by the Pennsylvania deer population totaling 1.5 million or 3 times their normal level. If anything, we need more large predators, such as cougars and eastern wolves, to lower the deer population to a healthy number. Of course, Mr. Peifer does not want to hear about that as it seems he’d prefer Pennsylvania’s wild lands become one large game farm filled with animals he likes (i.e. the ones he like to hunt).

Of course, we should not need to make the ecological arguments. Shooting or trapping an intelligent animal so closely related to man’s best friend for no valid reason is simply morally wrong. We must not only reject the ridiculous bounty, but the notion that killing 40,000 coyotes a year is a good idea. We must move into the 21st century and leave barbaric rituals to the history books.

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3 thoughts on “Proposed Pennsylvania Coyote Slaughter

  1. My recent experiences with coyotes. Hello, I am a native american artifact hunter in pennsylvania and up until last year. I was clueless of coyotes being present here. I spend hours wondering miles off of the beaten path reading the history story of left evidence in the land going back thousands of years. Sometimes so focused and unaware I end up on private property or miles from civilization.
    I am a large man who spent 5 years doing security in inner city hip hop clubs that provided me with more experience in violent altercations then I can keep track of and the training it took to handle almost any situation. Fear is not common to me anymore. But on a particular day turned evening I herd barking and yipping in the distance. I thought great! I must be on private property again and some ignorant prick sicked his dogs on me again. So I started walking to my car the barking and yipping got louder and found its way all around me slowly closing in on me as i walked. It was pitch black by the time I got to my vehicle they were in every direction 20 yards or so just out of site. It was like they escorted me out of the woods. I can only guess the number 6-12 maybe. It was unnerving. Later in the summer it happened again one early evening east of quakertown. I was with a friend who took off running they were louder and more aggressive on this occasion. i wont run from anything barking because every time I got bit by dogs I was running. Never the less I made it back to the car safely my friend climed in from the sun roof where he was waiting. We went home and resurched on the Web until the morning. I am 95 percent sure that if I was 12 years old walking home from a friends house and got in the same situation I wouldn’t of made it home on both accations. In the last 20 years of wondering in the woods. I have not been bothered by the wolves or large wild cats that were always present let alone feel hunted or get pushed out by them. Coyotes are known for attacking pets in residential neighborhoods and they are brazing enough to attack dogs while being walked by their owner. Sadly It is just a matter of time before a young kid gets really hurt. Take notice to the lack of road kill since 10 years ago and how deer skeletal remains are spread all over instead of intact like we found them as kids. Their here and they make me scared for the old lady walking her dog. small kids sneaking home in the woods or anyone else that may seem possible game to pack of opportunistic predators like coyotes.
    Thank you for reading this,

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    • Edward,

      Your concern about coyotes based on your experience is understandable. However, your fears about elderly people and children are not justified.

      The coyote researcher in the article below explains how coyote howls create the illusion that many more coyotes are in the area.

      “When people hear coyote howls, they often mistakenly assume that they’re hearing a large pack of animals, all raising their voices at once. But this is an auditory illusion called the “beau geste” effect. Because of the variety of sounds produced by each coyote, and the way sound is distorted as it passes through the environment, two of these tricksters can sound like seven or eight animals.”

      http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2014/03/coyotes-decoding-yips-barks-howls.html

      In your encounter, only 2-3 coyotes were likely present. This makes sense as coyotes rarely form large packs. Typically, coyotes groups only consist of a mated pair and the pups from the current year’s litter. Wolves often have a previous litter or two of pups in addition to this and hence have larger packs.

      Additionally, the coyotes were most likely more worried about your presence (people kill 40,000 coyotes a year in Pennsylvania). If you’ve seen nature documentaries, its akin to a jackal trying to escort a lion away from their pups. Clearly, the jackals are no threat to the lion (i.e. the jackals would not dare attack the lion) and are simply trying to keep the dangerous animal away from their vulnerable pups.

      “Coyotes will also howl and bark separately. This second type of song is virtually always an indication of disturbance or agitation, and in my experience, the higher the proportion of howls, the more agitated the coyote is. Coyotes will howl and bark at neighbors who intrude on their territory, and at dogs, people, and other large animals that they perceive as a potential threat.”

      http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2014/03/coyotes-decoding-yips-barks-howls.html#sthash.lkQumFQz.dpuf

      If coyotes were likely to attack kids or elderly people, we’d have massive numbers reported given the large population of both coyotes and people in North America. The very few attacks that do occur are almost entirely due to people feeding coyotes and allowing them to lose their natural fear of people. People need to keep coyotes fearful of people by hazing them:

      http://www.projectcoyote.org/CoyoteHazingBrochureFieldGuide.pdf

      The fact that coyotes sometimes attack small dogs (for food) or large dogs (to protect pups) has no connection to the chance coyotes would attack people. After all, a hunting dog may kill an animal, but also be gentle with people.

      As far as the lack of road killed deer, I think you are mistaken. Pennsylvania ranks second among all states in car-deer collisions:

      http://lancasteronline.com/news/local/pa-ranks-second-in-deer-vehicle-collisions—and/article_364553e0-43f4-11e4-94f3-0017a43b2370.html

      In fact, 1 in 71 Pennsylvania residents will hit a deer in the next 12 months. This poses a much more significant risk to people than coyotes. If coyotes do help decrease deer numbers, then this should be a benefit for human safety. Additionally, coyotes preying on deer and rodents may reduce the tick population that spreads Lyme Disease that can cripple people.

      Even if we were to hunt more coyotes, the population will likely still increase due to the compensating reproductive adaptation in this species. In fact, we’d likely have more adolescent coyotes that are more likely to get into trouble with people.

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      • Hello, sorry that I didn’t see this when you replied to my comment.
        I am impressed with you. it is not often that someone answers a post in which they disagree to another person’s opinion with such knowledge and class. I like you. You surly relieved me of some ignorance and replaced it with proper information. What u explained about the sounds. I herd makes sense. I guess fear fueled thoughts combined with the Rockie hills bouncing even more sound got me. When I mentioned roadkill I was not referring to collisions. I was using the carcasses as an example that coyotes are present. Fifteen years ago when an animal was hit,shot etc. You could count on it decaying to sceletal remains in one spot if it was not picked up. Now those deer get eaten. I always find their remains spread. It is not a bad thing. I was just using it as an example for my fellow born and raised pennsylvanians.

        If u could use an outdoorsman who can catch safe and friendly all pennsylvania reptiles and water creatures. Btw I can show you where i found delecate endangered turtle areas where they are breeding and need to be protected! I do not desturb the turtles in any way. I only visite once a year.I can also prove to you that trout are now breeding in our creeks and so much more. I am not your typical wanna be nature boy. I am even gentle with snapping turtles in most cases I feel them out with my bare feet. I don’t believe that there is a safe friendly way to catch any other wildlife so I stopped that in my teens. You can contact me at alosi32@gmail.com.

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