Wildlife Biologists Disagree On The Most Effective Way To Control Coyotes

Jun 10, 2019
Originally published on June 10, 2019 4:10 pm
Copyright 2019 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

You say coyotes. I say coyotes. We can argue over how you pronounce the word, but what is not in doubt is the federal government is trying to stop them from preying on livestock. In fact, the government is killing thousands of them every year. Critics of that approach have challenged it in court and won. Wyoming Public Radio's Melodie Edwards reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER BUZZING)

MELODIE EDWARDS, BYLINE: In a rugged canyon in southern Wyoming, a helicopter drops nets over a pair of coyotes. They're bound and blindfolded and flown to a landing station.

(CROSSTALK)

EDWARDS: There, University of Wyoming researchers place them on a mat.

UNIDENTIFIED RESEARCHER #1: It's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED RESEARCHER #2: Is 104.3, OK?

EDWARDS: The animals stay calm and still while people figure out their weight, age, sex.

UNIDENTIFIED RESEARCHER #3: Hey. Can I get just a little bit of water on him, please?

UNIDENTIFIED RESEARCHER #4: Katey, what are we calling this place?

EDWARDS: Grad student Katey Huggler is fitting these coyotes with tracking collars.

KATEY HUGGLER: What's most important to us is that GPS data.

EDWARDS: And what that data has been showing is, boy, do these coyotes roam. Huggler is amazed at one young female that's wandered long distances.

HUGGLER: It's, like, 110 miles as the crow flies - turned around and came back, like, three days later. And they're moving fast, but they're also moving really far.

EDWARDS: But Huggler says all that roaming changes during the short window when mule deer fawns are born. Mule deer populations around the West are way down, and some people blame coyotes. One solution is to kill the coyotes. But UW wildlife professor Kevin Monteith points out if you wipe out a pack of coyotes...

KEVIN MONTEITH: The next day, you just have an exchange of animals that come right back in and fill that place.

EDWARDS: In fact, some studies show that if you kill off a lot of coyotes, they breed even more.

MONTEITH: Oftentimes coyote control programs have been implemented. In some or many instances, it seems like the effects were negligible.

EDWARDS: Yet these conclusions haven't affected the high number of coyotes killed by Wildlife Services run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2018, the agency killed over 68,000 coyotes in the U.S. But some wildlife advocacy groups question that approach when the science doesn't necessarily show it works.

COLLETTE ADKINS: This is something that we've been working on at a national scale, really trying to transform Wildlife Services.

EDWARDS: Collette Adkins is with the Center for Biological Diversity, a wildlife advocacy group that's filed numerous lawsuits to force Wildlife Services to include the most recent science on predator control in their plans.

ADKINS: Like in Wyoming, which is relying on science primarily from, you know, '70s, the '80s, maybe the early '90s, but that just isn't OK.

EDWARDS: And more and more judges agree. California, Arizona and Idaho all are now required to change their plans to include more nonlethal approaches. And Adkins hopes Wyoming will be next.

ADKINS: In this last decade, we really have seen this growing body of literature that points to the effectiveness of nonlethal methods - for example, using guard dogs or fencing or frightening devices.

ROD MERRELL: We've used noisemakers and sirens, and they work for a period of time. And then the coyotes realize that they're not going to get hurt.

EDWARDS: That's Rod Merrell with Wildlife Services in Wyoming. He says killing coyotes still works best.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER BUZZING)

EDWARDS: But the researchers in the canyon say they're trying something new - studying coyotes alive. After the two coyotes are weighed and collared, it's time to release them into the wild. Researcher Tayler LaSharr is teaching a classmate how to do that.

TAYLER LASHARR: When I'm ready and you say you're ready to go, then you'll take your hands back really fast, and I'll kind of push them. They run really fast, like...

UNIDENTIFIED RESEARCHER #5: Yeah.

LASHARR: You ready?

UNIDENTIFIED RESEARCHER #5: Yeah.

LASHARR: OK.

EDWARDS: The coyote springs away from their hands, looks back, confused at his freedom. Then he's gone. For NPR News, I'm Melodie Edwards outside Rock Springs, Wyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.