Wildlife Services: Does Killing Coyotes Do Any Good?

This week Ken Cole at The Wildlife News made an important connection: last year Wildlife Services (a federal agency we’ve written a lot about here at Switchboard) had to truncate its coyote-killing operations due to budget cuts, but the number of sheep killed by coyotes during that same time ended up falling.    

Is there a link between these two facts?  Well, without knowing how many fewer coyotes Wildlife Services actually killed last year or comparing exactly where coyotes were killed versus where sheep were killed, it’s hard to say, but, counterintuitive as it might seem, this actually makes a good deal of sense.

First, there is evidence that programs to reduce coyote numbers through killing actually can have the perverse effect of spurring overall coyote population growth.  That’s because as the number of adult coyotes decreases, competition for food also goes down, and the survival rate of pups goes up.  So, in a generation, you can actually end up with more adult coyotes than you would have if you hadn’t started the killing in the first place.  Second, killing pack animals can disrupt existing social structures and territorial arrangements.  This can also lead to more livestock losses, as “good” coyotes (i.e., non-livestock killing packs) disintegrate and inexperienced younger animals move in to fill a vacuum.

Wildlife Services coyote control (USDA)

Relying on coyote trapping, poisoning, and shooting also has other nasty side effects, not the least of which is the potential for other wildlife, including people’s pets, to be killed and injured.  In fact, just last week residents around Oregon State University’s Sheep Research Center revolted over coyote snares set along the university’s fence line, which has snared not just coyotes, but pet dogs and other animals. 

This is not an isolated incident; dozens of pets have been injured by Wildlife Services traps and poisons. Predator Defense, one of NRDC’s partners, just released a powerful video about Bella, a pet husky who lost a leg to an unmarked Wildlife Services snare in the Boise National Forest.

There’s a better way for Wildlife Services to do business with your tax dollars: proven nonlethal methods to protect sheep and other livestock from predators, such as guard dogs, electrified fencing, changes to feeding schedules and other animal husbandry techniques that don’t rely on preventative killing.  Besides, as Ken Cole points out, when it comes to livestock losses, killing coyotes may ultimately do more harm than good.

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