Cassandra Robertson was looking for her missing cat when she found the first victim. Before dying, the coyote had chewed off some of its leg. Her shock turned to disgust when she found a live raccoon in another trap.
Asking around, she discovered that Oregon State University’s Sheep Center, her neighbor in the hills outside of Corvallis, was using the infamous federal agency Wildlife Services (WS) to trap and poison coyotes. She protested; the traps were removed.
Victory was short lived. A year later the traps returned. She called OSU and was told that after the Sheep Center stopped using traps, they lost 100 of their 200 sheep to coyotes. The traps, she was told, would stay.
Robertson contacted Brooks Fahy of Predator Defense. He listened and advised. She formed a team that met with the Dean of the College of Agriculture and encouraged him to make OSU a national leader in using nonlethal deterrents. Weeks passed with no re-sponse.
The group organized an evening of films and speakers. Around sixty people watched “Wild Things”, a film about learning to coexist with coyotes and “Exposed”, about the atrocities committed by the out-of-control US Wildlife Services using taxpayers’ money.
Fahy spoke and his message was simple: He’s watched Wildlife Services for more than thirty years, and it can’t be reformed. It must be abolished. He added that the agency kills about 100,000 predators each year nationwide. Some are shot from an airplane as they run terrified. Others are trapped and left for days—or weeks—before the trapper returns. Some die when a device shoots a cyanide mist into the animal’s mouth after it pulls at bait. When Fahy factors in the pups that die after their parents are killed, he figures that up to 500,000 predators die every year.
John Neumeister, a local sheep rancher and OSU graduate, told the audience that thirty years ago he bought his ranch near Corvallis. On one of his first nights there, he stood where his sheep would graze and heard coyote families singing from three different directions. What have I done? he wondered.
He remembered learning at OSU about guard dogs. He got his first—a pup that would grow to ninety pounds. Neumeister explained that coyotes are not stupid. They want an easy meal and his dogs intimidate. Over more than thirty years of grazing 60-100 sheep on his ranch annually, he has not lost one to coyotes. He thanks his dogs for that.
Neumeister can’t understand how OSU—a university that teaches livestock manage-ment—could lose 100 sheep a year to coyotes. He was asked how he would fix this problem at his alma mater. He pondered for a moment and then said that he would im-prove the fencing and use enough dogs to protect the herd.
That simple. And as it turns out, there are ranchers all across North America that agree.
In Ontario, Canada, Laurie Maus operates the 100-acre Hawk Hill Farm. In an essay on Coyote Watch Canada’s website, this rancher with a Master’s degree in biology wrote of how she looked at others who graze their livestock in coyote territory and then say they have a coyote problem: “In truth, the coyotes have a human problem. Coyotes and hu-mans want to use the same piece of property. It is up to us humans to figure out a way to coexist.”
Maus didn’t always feel that way. “Several years ago we started to raise sheep and my heart raced every time I heard a coyote sing. I heard many shepherds talk about their problems with coyotes, the kills and efforts to eradicate them. It sounded like an ever escalating arms war with no end in sight.”
She instituted nonlethal measures to protect her flock: using three guard dogs, building coyote-proof fencing, removing dead livestock and placentas, and installing strobe lights. (She’s not certain that the lights worked well.)
She also made sure the coyotes had an alternative food source by leaving wild areas on the farm. This provides habitat for the rodents, raccoons, and skunks that coyotes eat. “Coyotes are not stupid. They will not risk their life to get something to eat if there is something available that does not pose a risk.”
Keli Hendricks and her husband operate the Bar C R Ranch in Petaluma, California. She wrote in Agweek about how they “…run 300 mother cows that calve in pastures along-side coyote packs and other predators.” They only use nonlethals and she can’t recall losing a calf to predators.
Hendricks adds that killing coyotes—while making ranchers feel that they are doing something to protect livestock—is counterproductive: “Coyotes biologically respond to hunting pressures by having more pack members breed, and in turn have larger litters in which more pups survive.” Additionally, “…packs that are fractured by hunting also leave juvenile coyotes orphaned, and thus more likely to come into conflict with pets and livestock.” And finally, killing coyotes “…creates a vacuum in which the newly opened territory eventually draws coyotes in to fill it.” Thus, killing coyotes “…creates the endless war between wildlife and ranchers that has been waging for decades at untold cost to taxpayers, ranchers, wildlife and the environment.”
Ranchers who have ended the war—stopped killing coyotes—find other benefits, ac-cording to Geri Vistein, a conservation biologist in Maine, who educates communities about coexisting with carnivores. She has traveled to a number of farms and found that “…those who are coexisting well with coyotes are successful farmers, and they are happy doing what they do!”
To learn more about the coyote’s (and the wolf’s) ecological role, check out Rick Lamplugh’s new bestselling book, In the Temple of Wolves on Amazon Canada at http://amzn.to/1eRDNiB and in the U.S. at http://amzn.to/Jpea9Q
Photo of coyote in snow by Yathin S. Krishnapp
Photo of guard dog and sheep by Andy Fitzsimon
Photo of coyote head by Christopher Bruno