Read the following statements found on the Maine.gov website and it is easy to believe that Maine is putting the health of our natural ecosystems in jeopardy:
“By continuing the coyote control program, the public may perceive the Department [of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife] implicitly believes the control program has a strong biological basis, when in fact, the biological benefits of coyote control are unknown.” (This implies that the biological harm is also unknown).
As well as this statement: “It is not known whether the current snaring program, or other forms of coyote control, has any effect on increasing local or regional deer numbers.”
And this: “The possibility exists that the removal of territorial coyotes may allow nonterritorial coyotes into an area, and exacerbate the deer predation problem.”
All of these statements were issued by IF&W in its 2001 report “Feasibility Statements for Eastern Coyote Goals and Objectives.” This is the latest information available on the coyote control program in Maine and, according to the IF&W staff member who wrote this report, is still relevant today. Which means no further research has been conducted or analyzed.
Coyote control in Maine is facilitated through shooting, trapping, baiting and running down coyotes with dogs. These can be inhumane methods and are not regulated, as no permit is required for general hunting of coyotes and hunters are not required to tag any coyotes they kill.
It is open season on coyotes year-round in Maine, which means that people hiking through the woods with their dogs are at risk any time of the year, not just during deer hunting season. This past fall there were four different cases of domestic dogs being shot and killed near their homes throughout Maine, mistaken by hunters for coyotes. One dog was even a black lab.
Coyotes are often blamed for killing too many deer, when in actuality the number of deer that coyotes kill cannot be estimated. And these numbers are probably not as high as the amount of deer that hunters kill each year.
Coyotes are opportunistic feeders, which means that they will eat almost anything that is edible and available. According to a 2011 study conducted by a UVM graduate student, “Food Habits and Foraging Behavior of Coyotes in Vermont,” scat analyses revealed that the majority of a coyote’s diet consists of small mammals, birds, insects, vegetation and human refuse.
Though to be fair, who is more deserving of their efforts — the deer hunter, driven mainly by the thrill of the hunt, or the coyote, which must kill in order to survive? Despite assumptions that coyotes decrease the deer population, there has been no research that proves that coyote control results in larger deer numbers.
According to the Eastern Coyote Institute, when a coyote population is thinned out through the killing of individual members, a survival response actually stimulates their population growth through larger litters and more breeding females. Based on these considerations, the reason for decreasing the number of coyotes is unfounded and the whole process of coyote control could be seen as counterproductive, unless hunters were able to nearly wipe out the entire species.
Maine’s coyote control is needless and unregulated and merely serves the purpose of providing financial stability to the IF&W rather than an environmentally responsible way to manage wildlife.
IF&W cannot claim to be stewards of Maine’s wildlife and represent the Maine people if it does not equally uphold the values of all of our state’s citizens, not just those who hunt. Less than 5 percent of the entire population of the United States are registered hunters (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation”), and yet the voices of hunters are often listened to more than nonhunters because they bring in profits.
This is not a fair representation of the population and this is not fair for wildlife. We need to make a concerted effort in Maine to conduct responsible and educated management of our coyote population or face the consequences of an irreversibly unbalanced natural ecosystem.
Heather Bolint of Damariscotta is a 2009 graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fl., where she earned a BA in environmental studies.