HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
In early 2012, the Utah Legislature passed the Mule Deer Protection Act. The new law directed the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to reduce populations of coyotes for the benefit of mule deer. DWR also implemented a new predator control program that provided insensitive for members of the public to remove coyotes. Program participants can receive $50 for each properly documented coyote they kill in Utah. DWR hopes its Predator Control Program will eliminate a significant portion of the states coyote population, which in turn will benefit deer herds on which they prey.
Other states have implemented bounty programs, but rarely on this scale. Even the New York Times has taken note of Utah’s Predator Control Program, calling it one of the nation’s largest hunter-based efforts to manage predatory wildlife. Since last September, when DWR launched its coyote bounty program through May of this year, more than 6,000 dead coyotes have been redeemed by hunters. Camilla Fox, executive director of Project Coyote, said, “While few can argue the Predator Control Program enjoyed a smooth start, its effect has had on wildlife in debatable. The program is ecologically reckless, economically unjustifiable and ethically reprehensible.”
According to Fox, the majority of government agencies acknowledge coyote bounties are not only ineffective at reducing coyote populations, they are often counter-productive. She asserts decades of research show systematic killing of coyotes increases reproduction, immigration and survival. In the long term, no scientific study has demonstrated bounty programs are effective in reducing coyote populations.
Dr. Robert Crabtree, founder of Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, agrees with this perspective. “It cannot be over-emphasized how powerfully coyote populations compensate for population reductions,” he said.
Fox also questions the department’s methods of how it will measure the program’s success. Can they demonstrate the bounty hunt actually helped boost mule deer populations? Fox believes they’d be hard pressed to show this.
John Shivik, mammal’s coordinator for DWR’s Division of Wildlife Resources, said, “The department has been collecting what looks like it will be excellent data to help evaluate how effective our efforts are. It is still too early to assess the program’s impact and the biggest challenge his team faces is identifying the deer populations that are most effective by coyotes because the department is trying to be efficient and effective as possible with its resources.”
The subject of resources also opens the door to criticism. Bounty programs are often susceptible to fraud. When all that is required for payout are portions of the carcass (such as paws, jaws or ears), it is difficult to be sure the coyotes weren’t killed in other parts of the country. DWR attempts to address this by requiring hunters to document the date and location of each kill before paying bounty, but critics point out that information could easily be fabricated.
An example of this kind of fraud reportedly occurred in Canada when Saskatchewan offered a coyote bounty. To collect the $20 bounty, hunters were required to remove the paws from every coyote killed and given to authorities. As a result, piles of dead coyotes were found in other parts of the country with their paws cut off. More than 70,000 dead coyotes were killed as part of Saskatchewan’s bounty program and it’s impossible to know how many were killed elsewhere and then illegally redeemed in the province.
Fox pointed out that those past problems are proof bounty programs are a waste of money and are very often fraught with illegal activity. Fox said she would like know how many of those coyote parts turned in to DWR for the $50 bounties were actually killed in other states.
Despite those lingering questions, Utah’s Predator Control Program has received enthusiastic support from many local hunters. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on regarding the program, when it comes to coyotes, it might be worth remembering ( by both sides) the old adage, “You can’t blame a guy for trying to make a living.”
Outdoors writer Bob Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org