Introduction by Lesley Sampson, Founding Executive Director of Coyote Watch Canada.
Life is beyond difficult for coyotes living on this continent. In the province of Ontario, a coyote can be snuffed out everyday of the year for just being seen. No day is sacred—or safe—for coyotes. Open season occurs during pup rearing, mating, and when coyote young are dispersing. Research conducted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry about these sentient and vital keystone species never supports any move to protect them. Even though science has shown over and over the importance of keeping coyote family structure intact—when left to thrive, coyotes may mate for life and are fundamental in keeping harmony on the lands.
In Canada coyotes can be trapped under the profile of “nuisance, or vermin.” Heinous death traps immobilize an unsuspecting coyote to suffer in agony, exposed to the elements. There are no “bag limits,” just a free for all to annihilate coyotes. In fact, the latest tool of death the MNRF is quietly promoting is the RCR, the cruel and ruthless Relax Cable Restraint. This ‘holding” snare is a weapon of torture and mass destruction with the potential to be used by trappers, farmers, and even newcomers to trapping to “test” on coyotes. Our tax dollars are being used to subsidize this inherently vicious initiative. When will our government end this senseless wanton execution of one of the most fascinating and maligned creatures of this century? The hour is here.
And life is no better for coyotes in the United States, as Rick Lamplugh writes in “Wildlife Services Senseless Coyote War,” the latest post to his Coyote Watch Canada blog.
Since its inception—while changing names and hiding within different federal departments—Wildlife Services has waged a one-sided war against coyotes. Critics claim that the rogue agency knows that wholesale killing of coyotes only increases coyote numbers. Yet this senseless, taxpayer-funded slaughter continues: Wildlife Services killed 75,326 coyotes in 2013 alone.
While spending three winters living and volunteering in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, I observed and admired coyotes that were free of human persecution. Intrigued by these intelligent survivors, I researched the war our government—and Wildlife Services—lost against them.
When Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, was established, protecting wildlife wasn’t a priority. Yellowstone was created to preserve scenery and geothermal features; the animals just happened to live there. There was no money to hire staff to safeguard wildlife anyway. So, for example, miners passing through the Lamar Valley on their way to Cooke City killed coyotes and wolves for sport or profit.
By the time officials considered wildlife protection, they thought only about protecting game animals. And killing predators. In 1896 coyote control was recommended; poisoned carcasses were the weapon of choice. Eight years later, with coyotes holding their own, the park superintendent vowed to escalate the war. Three years later, the U.S. Army took charge and deployed soldiers against coyotes.
This war did not go unnoticed. By the late 1920s, people inside and outside the National Park Service, the group then in charge, questioned the heavy-handed destruction. Scientific organizations spoke against predator control. The view that predators were necessary and should be protected became NPS policy in 1936. The sanctioned killing stopped.
In the forty years between poisoning the first carcass and firing the last shot, more than 4,300 Yellowstone coyotes were killed. But that did not drive them from the park.
Though halted in Yellowstone, the war continued across America. In 1931 President Hoover created the Branch of Predator and Rodent Control, the agency that would become Wildlife Services. Government hunters and trappers employed a gruesome arsenal: snares, traps, and rifles; chemical warfare using cyanide, sugar-coated strychnine, anti-fertility chemicals; biological warfare by introducing mange that would kill coyotes during winter. They flooded dens or set them on fire. They hunted from airplanes and snowmobiles.
When the dust settled, coyotes, which before the one-sided war had been concentrated in the Great Plains, lived in every state except Hawaii. They now reside in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, where packs have learned to avoid humans by hunting at night and not howling.
Some questions jump out at me from this tragic tale. If killing coyotes didn’t reduce their population during the war and still doesn’t keep their numbers down, why allow Wildlife Services to continue its indiscriminate slaughter? Why fund an agency that refuses to learn from experience? Why not disband the agency? Why not create an agency in step with the times and focusing on nonlethal methods that keep coyotes and other predators alive and out of trouble?
Rick Lamplugh is a wolf and coyote advocate and author of the bestselling In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter’s Immersion in Wild Yellowstone.