Letter: Open season on coyotes is unsound, immoral
On Christmas day in Pittsford, Vermont, a beloved family dog, who had escaped her yard, was shot and killed by someone who assumed the dog was a coyote. This large, blonde, husky mix with blue-eyes, floppy ears, and a fluffy coat, looked nothing like a coyote and was not exhibiting aggressive or threatening behavior. There was no justification for this tragedy, but I am not surprised that it happened. VT Fish & Wildlife Department (FWD) condones the persecution of coyotes, including shooting them on sight, 365 days a year. This Pittsford man saw a dog, assumed it was a wild canine, and shot it for no other reason than he could. Coyotes are regularly killed simply for being coyotes. They do not have to be in the act of harming livestock or pets, or threatening people in any way. Their carcasses are often left to rot where they died or along roadsides. Their bodies, riddled with lead bullets, are scavenged by raptors and other wildlife who may sicken and die from lead poisoning. This disgraceful and wanton waste of life should be repugnant to all Vermonters, including hunters.
I spend a great deal of time outdoors with my dogs and worry that they too will fall victim to some killer roaming the woods looking for coyotes. This is not simply hyperbole. We had a close call with coyote hunters two summers ago. While investigating beaver activity on my posted property, I was alerted by my growling dog to two people, carrying rifles, emerging from shrubs along the river. When asked what they were up to they responded "hunting coydogs" and claimed they didn't know they were on posted land. Ever since that day, I have wondered what might have happened if my two coyote-sized dogs had not heard these hunters who were headed right for us in dense shrubby terrain with poor visibility.
As one of the most adaptable species in North America, coyotes adjust their reproductive cycles in response to stress, over-hunting or the death of the breeding pair. Juveniles mature earlier and litter sizes increase. Loss of a breeding pair also changes pack social behavior resulting in greater aggression toward non-native prey. In other words, coyotes may become more aggressive and more numerous if over-hunted. Informed wildlife managers should promote coexistence and educate farmers about nonlethal means of protecting livestock. Rather than hatred, coyotes deserve respect for the immeasurable role they play in controlling rodent populations, keeping deer herds moving, dispersing native plant species, and cleansing the woods of carrion. White-footed mice, a favorite coyote meal, are carriers of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. And Vermont had the second highest rate of Lyme disease in the country in 2016.
Vermont FWD must create effective, ethical, management policies that do not harm ecosystems or compromise wildlife and are based on sound science. The coyote killing contest ban passed last year, spearheaded by Protect Our Wildlife Vermont, was a great first step, but it must be part of a larger solution. The open season, which allows the use of hounds, is ecologically unsound and immoral. I encourage the FWD to establish a regulated coyote hunting season that avoids the months when pups are born and raised and when many Vermonters (and tourists) want to enjoy the woods in peace, quiet, and relative safety.
Stamford, Jan. 8
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