Today's newspaper column. Controversial to nonhunters, but reality to conservationists

Coyote hunting controls numbers

Coyote hunting controls numbers

I kill coyotes and I don’t eat them.

That may sound like an obvious statement to farmers, hunters and informed conservationists, but comes as a shock to the majority of people in this country who are out of touch with nature.

The overwhelming majority of people in this country do not hunt, fish or trap. Many of them are not opposed to the outdoor sports, but have unrealistic ideas about what we do and how it all goes down.

One of the biggest bits of unsupported logic I run into all over the country is that hunting is justified only because all hunters eat what they kill. With many species that is and should be true, but there are exceptions.

Coyotes are one of them.

When I explain to people who think the only reason to kill something is to eat it that I kill coyotes and don’t eat them, I then have to explain why I do so and why they should be doing the same.

Coyotes were never intended to be the apex predator in any ecosystem. We assigned them the job when we eradicated mountain lions, bears and especially wolves.

Where those larger predators still exist alongside coyotes, coyotes are in check.

But in the case of wolves, which are coyote’s biggest natural enemy, we have pushed them out of the lower 48 states except for a couple isolated places.

The coyote’s transition to king of the woods in the Midwest occurred to a lesser extent through over-hunting and bounties on the larger predators, but to a much larger extent when people displaced the larger predators to clear fields, build subdivisions and erect cities.

The greatest hypocrisy expressed by the people opposed to hunting things we don’t eat is that those same people generally live in the most developed parts of the country, and are the most to blame for the imbalance humans have created.

If humans do not control coyotes for whatever reason we choose, the imbalance in our ecosystem will only get worse.

While many believe the near extirpation of grouse and quail in the Midwest is mostly due to a loss of habitat, for example, they are missing the entire picture if they do not also acknowledge the impact coyotes have on ground nesting birds.

More than a few necropsies on coyotes I have killed have revealed the remains of grouse and quail where they still existed in the same place.

But logic and facts don’t always convince nonhunters, who think killing things we don’t eat is purely sport hunting — perhaps the most reviled sort of hunting in the anti-hunting community.

Their opposition to what we know is management hunting is emotional and based on a fantasy that all of the earth’s creatures can live in harmony if we just leave them to manage themselves.

That might be true in a world without people, but we are here to stay.

Here are some facts that should concern coyote hunters and nonhunters alike if they live in places where larger predators no longer exist.

A Curlew Valley, Idaho, study showed that female coyote pups are capable of breeding before they are 1 year old, and that in the study subject area more than 80 percent of the yearling and older coyotes were pregnant every year.

Now consider that litter sizes are typically around 5-6, but vary with density, environmental conditions and between individual females.

Under moderate densities in places with abundant food, like the Midwest, litters can average between 7-9.

Recent studies have also demonstrated coyotes often hunt in packs, something that was disputed for many years, and that they are becoming more skilled at killing healthy deer. These skills are likely attributable, at least in part, to the mixture of domestic dog in their lines as well as the absence of larger predators for several generations.

Cattle and sheep farmers will also tell you coyotes are responsible for the deaths of several of their livestock every year.

If it makes it people feel better, they are welcome to butcher and eat the coyotes they kill. I can tell them from first hand experience, however, that they are tough, smelly and gamey.

For those of us who just skin and tan their hide, but discard of the meat, I make no apologies. In fact, if anyone who lives in a high-rise where wolves used to den would like to thank me, my email address is posted below.

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Dad and I fishing the old-fashioned way.