March 24, 2018
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There’s no reason to restart Maine’s inhumane coyote snaring practice

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN
By Ron Joseph, Special to the BDN

Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If the Maine Legislature reinstates the controversial coyote snaring program, it would fit this definition perfectly.

Since the 1960s, coyote control (control being a euphemism for “killing”) bills have annually flooded the Legislature with the purported virtuous goal of saving deer. Legislators who have made impassioned pleas to kill coyotes to “protect our deer herd” could have saved far more deer for hunters by passing laws to protect deer yards.

But lobbyists for the powerful timber industry have donated thousands of campaign dollars to sway legislators to vote against laws protecting softwood habitat critical to deer winter survival. So instead, legislators took the easy path: lets appease hunters by killing more coyotes.

Now that the federal government recommends removing the Canadian lynx from the Endangered Species Act list, Maine sportsmen are renewing calls to kill coyotes with wire neck snares — a practice that was suspended when lynx were accidentally strangled in snares intended for coyotes.

I support coyote hunting. But I’m adamantly opposed to spending taxpayer dollars to support the killings.

The notion that coyotes can be controlled is ludicrous. In the past century or so, the federal government has spent millions of dollars trapping, poisoning, snaring and shooting coyotes from small planes and helicopters across the country. Those millions of dollars achieved nothing: More coyotes reside today in the western United States — and Maine — than in recent history.

Strangle coyotes in a patch of woods one winter and within a few months new ones will fill the vacancy. If history has taught us anything, it should be that spending nearly $40,000 annually on coyote snaring from 1985 until 2002, according to former state Rep. Linda McKee, D-Winthrop, was a waste of money. In 2003, McKee co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill — LD 237 — to terminate coyote snaring. McKee told me, “The snaring program cost the state $680,000.” That money, she claims, would have been far better spent protecting deer yards.

As Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife regional wildlife biologist in Greenville in the late 1980s, I supervised the state’s coyote snaring program in the Moosehead Lake region. It’s an inhumane program: strangled coyotes die slow, gruesome deaths as their heads enlarge with coagulated blood. When this information was shared with a news reporter, the Maine Trappers Association sought to have the biologist who shared it fired. It’s OK, the trappers association reasoned, to publicize coyotes killing deer, but it’s not OK to tell the public how its money produced dead “jelly-head” coyotes.

Not surprisingly, snaring advocates also suppress another inconvenient truth: snares kill indiscriminately.

In Greenville, I investigated eagles, lynx, bobcats, fishers and, ironically, deer killed in coyote snares. One trapper told me, “I’ve snared 22 coyotes and only one eagle. That’s an acceptable kill ratio.” Warden Service investigations revealed that some trappers buried snared lynx in brush piles to avoid reporting them. Irate rabbit hunters visited my office to complain about removing wire snares from the chests of their hunting beagles.

Given the program’s history of expense, ineffectiveness and deaths of nontarget animals, the Legislature ought to reject any proposed bills legalizing coyote snaring.

Ron Joseph is a retired Maine wildlife biologist. He lives in central Maine.

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