How much do you know about coyotes?
We need to be aware of the presence of coyotes and take simple safety steps to reduce the potential for conflicts, but the mass killing of coyotes is not an effective wildlife-management strategy. The use of cruel methods such as killing contests, bounties and trapping to eliminate this keystone species is unnecessary and out of step with values of compassion and conservation.
Coyotes provide a number of free, natural ecological services that all South Carolinians should appreciate. They help control disease transmission and keep rodent populations in check, curtailing hantavirus, a rodent-borne illness that kills humans. Coyotes clean up animal carcasses, remove sick animals from the gene pool and protect crops. They also indirectly protect birds from smaller carnivores, thereby increasing the biological diversity of plant and wildlife communities.
Despite their importance, humans have waged a war on coyotes for more than a century, killing them with poisons, traps, guns, hunting dogs and a variety of other brutal methods. The wary nature and remarkable adaptability of coyotes has resulted in an expansion of their range throughout North America.
Now, some people are blaming any perceived reduction in deer-hunting numbers on coyotes. But the science simply does not support this. Wildlife management professionals have pointed out that the key to deer survival is protecting breeding females and ensuring that herds have access to adequate nutrition — not artificially curtailing the natural predators that strengthen a herd by culling sick and weak animals.
Coyote-killing bounties or contests such as South Carolina’s “Coyote Harvest Incentive Program,” North Carolina’s Richmond County “Powerball” coyote hunting scheme, or the Georgia heinous “Georgia Coyote Challenge” simply do not work. If coyotes are removed from an area, others will quickly replace them.
When aggressively controlled, coyotes can boost their reproductive rates. This allows coyote populations to quickly bounce back, even when significant numbers are removed.
In 2016, in response to claims by deer hunters that coyotes were adversely affecting their quarry, the Pennsylvania Game Commission concluded that “After decades of using predator control (such as paying bounties) with no effect, and the emergence of wildlife management as a science, the agency finally accepted the reality that predator control does not work.” It added: “Predators don’t compete with our hunters for game. The limiting factor is habitat — we must focus our efforts on habitat.”
A study by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation found that on the whole, deer numbers were actually growing in the presence of well-established coyote populations.
The methods used to kill coyotes are also facing more public opposition. The most common devices used are steel-jawed leghold traps, which can cause severe, painful injuries and suffering for any animal — or human — unfortunate enough to come across them. These devices are indiscriminate, and there are countless, heartbreaking media reports of unintended pet trappings in the United States and Canada, which cause death or appalling injuries. Non-target wild animals are also caught in traps, and many sustain injuries so severe that they die or must be killed.
A recent study by the Ohio State University found that American attitudes toward coyotes have become significantly more positive in the past several decades, by as much as 47 percent. Overall, the study found, Americans appreciate and value this iconic species.
The Humane Society of the United States provides information at humanesociety.org/coyotes on humanely coexisting with these fascinating, resilient and ecologically beneficial native carnivores, including a model coyote management and coexistence plan, scientific studies and tips for homeowners and pet owners. South Carolina officials must recognize the role of coyotes in our environment and acknowledge Americans’ increasingly positive attitudes toward coyotes and all native carnivores.
Ms. Kelly is S.C. director of the Humane Society of the United States; contact her at email@example.com.