CAMDEN, Maine — Geri Vistein, a conservation biologist, disapproves of hunters leaving piles of animal flesh in the woods as bait so they can shoot a coyote that might come along for the meal. She disapproves of groups of dogs chasing coyotes and ripping them to bloody pieces. In the war of humans versus coyotes, she wants peace.
In a talk presented to a supportive crowd of about 25 Thursday night at Camden Public Library, Vistein talked about why Mainers should coexist with coyotes.
Her best advice is to leave the wild dogs alone.
“Because we’re messing them up, it can affect our relationship with them,” she said.
Vistein said that when a family of coyotes can live in the wild in peace, they stabilize rodent populations, which in turn reduces tick populations. But when hunters chase coyotes and destabilize their environments, coyotes are forced to look for food in places such as trash cans and chicken coops.
Part of the problem, Vistein said, is that people do not understand the species.
For one, she said, traditional population control doesn’t work. When coyote populations plummet because of human interference, the surviving animals produce more pups.
“It’s an ancient survival thing. The more you kill them, the more you have,” she said. “Resilient, resilient, resilient.”
Vistein also expressed her concern for new laws passed by the Legislature in a reported effort to encourage Mainers to shoot more coyotes in order to lessen predation on a struggling deer herd.
She said hunting rights for coyotes have been opened beyond most species to allow night hunting through part of the year, and Maine now allows hunters to put animal carcasses on frozen ponds to bait them. Coyotes also have been exempted from the wanton waste law, Vistein said. Because of this, hunters do not have to retrieve the coyote carcasses.
According to Vistein, Mainers can benefit from coyotes. Most people benefit by reduced populations of rodents and ticks, therefore reducing the risk of Lyme disease. Specifically, Vistein recommended that farmers allow coyotes to live on the edges of their fields so they will keep pests at bay.
“[Coyote hunters] are doing farmers a great disservice,” she said, because when the coyotes are on the run, they often eat domestic animals. She said when hunters bait coyotes with pig or sheep carcasses left in the woods by a hunting spot, it gives them a taste for the meat they otherwise wouldn’t have had.
“They are affecting farmers big time,” she said. “It’s just driving coyotes there.”
A Tenants Harbor resident who attended Thursday’s talk said she felt like people in her area have overhunted the coyotes.
“The hunters in St. George are out of control,” she said. “I haven’t heard a coyote in three years.”
The woman, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said that while on walks in the woods she has found piles of dead sheep and pigs left as bait for coyotes.
“It stinks to high heaven,” she said.
Vistein told a story of a Union girl who goes home crying when she gets off the school bus each day because a man along the bus route hangs dead coyotes outside of his house.
“This is no way to be treating an important, intelligent carnivore,” she said.