Emerging research carried out by WS wildlife biologists at the National Wildlife Research Center may provide some support for this view.
"Overall population reduction is a total waste of money, and certainly isn't the way to go," said Michael Jaeger, a wildlife biologist at NWRC and the University of California, Berkeley. "We've found that relatively few coyotes are doing the killing."
Coyotes are very territorial, and only one pack operates within a territory.
"Packs are essentially family units, consisting of an alpha pair, which is the only pair that breeds, some betasanimals that are one to two years oldand pups," said Jaeger. "We've found that it's often a single alpha animal or pair that are preying on sheep that have moved into the pack's territory. If you can eliminate the alpha animals you can disrupt the predation until a new alpha pair is established or transient pack takes over the territory."
Jaeger's research also shows that alpha coyotes don't tend to be surplus killers. "Mountain lions or bears go into a herd and can kill 10 to 15 animals in one night, more than they can eat," he said. "Alpha coyotes kill just one animal, which they eat."
Alphas tend to be warier and harder to catch, so random hunting tends to get the younger, dumber animals, adds Jaeger. But, as Idaho sheep rancher John Faulkner says, "How do you tell the difference?"
"If we didn't have predator control out here, why maybe the number of coyotes would back off, but we'd be out of business by then," he says. "And predator control isn't just about livestock. In Los Angeles they've been having problems with animals taking people's pets; Mama gets a mite irked when her cat goes missing."
Predator control operations also tackle bird populations around golf courses, airports, fish farms, and feedlots.
Still, wildlife conservationists argue that the program is basically a tax-subsidized remedy for ranchersaround 70 percent of the agency's budget goes toward killing wildlife to protect livestock in the West. Because it doesn't cost them much, ranchers have no incentive to take non-lethal measures to avoid the problem in the first place, says Gaillard.
Non-lethal fixes are not easy, and they do add costs, admits Gaillard. But a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management estimated that the costs associated with aerial kills are between U.S. $200 to $800 per coyote. Non-lethal methods include the use of guard animalsdogs and llamas have both proven effectiveincreased patrolling, and increased fencing, particularly in areas where animals are concentrated and particularly vulnerable to predators, such as lambing and calving lots, and in areas that have chronic problems.
Hunting Powder, Coal, and Copper
Utah has a particularly black record in the eyes of wildlife conservation activists because, along with several other states, the state sponsors coyote bounty hunts. During these shooting contests, hunters returning with the tongue, tail, or a pair of ears, depending on the locale, collect a bounty, usually of around $20. This practice led one wildlife activist to suggest that the Olympic mascot Copper the Coyote be sold missing its tongue, tail, and ears.
"We've all been watching the Olympics here, and it's very exciting," said Gaillard. "We would hope that the spirit of world unity and peace [fostered by the Olympics] would extend to include our furry brethren."
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