Growing up in Vermont in the 1950s and ’60s there were a few things we never saw. We did not see Canadian geese, coyotes were just beginning to make a comeback but I never saw any, the opossum had not yet arrived, and we never saw any blue herons. You could say the same for those big turkey buzzards that cruise above the interstate. I-91 and I-89 decimated deer populations because the highways broke up deer territories. We began to see more moose as a result of that change. The first time I ever saw a moose was when a Central Vermont freight train hit one near an overpass in Sharon, Vermont in maybe 1969. My classmate Kevin Blakeman lived nearby and rode his pony down to investigate. Kevin’s pony was dwarfed by the moose. That’s when I determined that any moose I encountered on the road deserved the right-of-way regardless of the situation.
Since those days our coyote population has practically exploded, along with populations of Canadian geese, blue herons, opossum, and buzzards. The geese have become a problem on golf courses, opossums will get into your garbage, blue herons will fish out a stocked pond in a matter of days, and coyotes have become one of the most controversial creatures of all.
As a kid, I first heard coyotes referred to as coy dogs. By the time I was in my early 20s family members were seeing them in the woods at the family hunting camp in Plymouth and they were everywhere. They were also getting blamed for taking poultry, pets, and other small game, as well as chasing down deer. Hunters did not like that. Coyotes were hunted aggressively and the introduction of hounds made it much more serious. Sheep and poultry farmers were having issues with coyotes and taking losses and the hunting pressure on coyotes ramped up even more.
That’s when an interesting thing happened. The coyote population increased in response. Research showed that when hunting killed off the alpha males, the only ones in the pack allowed to breed, all the males began to breed all the females. Instant baby boom. So the result was that hunting coyotes simply increased their numbers. That certainly does not fit under the heading of “wildlife management.” More studies ensued.
In New Hampshire, they wanted to gather statistics on all the coyotes taken in the state, so in the 1970s every deceased coyote collected by every New Hampshire Game Warden was sent to the Dartmouth Medical School’s Animal Research Facility where Dr. Emerson Colby autopsied each and every one of them himself. The stomach contents were weighed and cataloged. The day after a particularly grueling session of coyote autopsies I asked Doctor Colby what exactly they ate. “Everything” he replied. Everything including mice, rabbits, vegetation, voles, pretty much anything that provided sustenance.
However, coyotes are predators and they are opportunists. Farms are especially attractive, especially farms with smaller free-range creatures. My daughter and son-in-law have a farm that raises thousands of pastured chickens and turkeys. They started having losses attributed to coyotes. My son-in-law is a very thoughtful man and he sought solutions that did not involve killing coyotes. They found a company that made a light system that tricks coyotes into seeing apex predators where there are none. They also use dogs that are bred and trained to protect their farm animals. It has worked well.
My whole point here is that coyote eradication has become a killing sport, just for fun. They are God’s creatures, they serve a purpose. They self-regulate their population. We are smart enough to keep them out of the hen house without killing them. Discuss this. Ask people who know more about this stuff than you do and draw your own conclusions, but my mind has been changed on the subject and I’d like to leave them alone.