I am sure that some will say that the coyote numbers are up this year. I have heard some trappers claiming they have taken more coyotes than usual, and this will be touted as evidence for the coyotes’ culpability in the low deer harvest.
This can easily be countered with some simple logic. Most of the deer died of starvation and perhaps some marginal predation toward the end of the winter. There were many deer carcasses lying around in the woods towards the end of March last year. There were so many of them that they remained well into the spring, rotting and stinking in the sun as it melted away the snow. There were vast flocks of turkey vultures circling in the sky well into May. The scavengers were doing well.
Including the coyotes.
Late winter is when coyote bitches are pregnant with their pups, and the deer carcasses provided them with good quality nutrition during their pregnancies and through much of their nursing period. That means that more coyote pups survived the summer, and that’s why people are seeing so many coyotes and why the trappers claim to be catching more.
Coyotes will probably not have such an easy time this year. If there are fewer dead deer about, they will not be able to produce as many pups. And if prey species are scarce, as they apparently are, many coyotes will starve. There will be conflicts over territory, and as unhealthy coyotes fight over existence, my guess is that people will be seeing lots of mangy coyotes or “chupacabras” running around here towards the end of the winter.
Last winter, the white-tailed deer suffered something akin to an Holodomor. It was not the harshness of winter that killed them. It was the harshness of the heavy snows and what some have called a “mast failure.” Deer cannot survive on grass. They need nuts in their diet, and without nuts, they simply died of malnutrition.
The coyotes benefited from the deer’s misfortune, and if things continue as they are, the coyotes will soon experience their starving time.
That is how predator-prey relationships normally work in a healthy ecosystem. If the deer population totally crashed, then there might be some justification to kill off the coyotes.
Good luck doing that.
Coyotes are nearly impossible to eradicate from an area. They are a beautifully fecund species, and if you kill one, that individual will easily be replaced. Coyotes respond to vacuums in the population by producing more pups. The younger bitches pair off sooner and breed earlier than when the population is relatively stable.
I have nothing against coyote trapping or hunting, but killing coyotes will not “save” deer. Deer are much more regulated by the essentials of food, water, and cover than they are by predators.
Predators are necessary, and human should not be the only predators in an ecosystem. History has shown time and again what happens when humans try to assume the role of the sole predator. The populations of prey species explode.
Granted, with more deer, more licenses can be sold, which is good for the agency.
However, ecosystems can handle only so many deer, and only so many people can be convinced to hunt them. Not everyone agrees that hunting is ethical.
I am reminded of an essay by another person associated with the University of Wisconsin. One wonders if Mr. Engelke has read “Thinking Like a Mountain” by Aldo Leopold, who taught forestry at Engelke’s alma mater. It is one of the most eloquent defenses of predators in the ecosystem that I have ever read. Leopold was working as a forester in the Southwest and regularly hunted deer there. One day, he and his companion were eating lunch one day, they spotted a bitch wolf and her puppies. They opened fire on them, wounding a pup and killing the bitch. As the bitch lay dying, Leopold came across her green eyes just as the life rushed out of them. He found it so deeply moving:
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
Through that wolf’s death, he began to realize how important predators were in maintaining the ecosystem:
I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.
We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.
The Rusty Shackleford school of wildlife management is based entirely upon imperfect human perceptions. To the imperfect human eye, the large numbers of coyotes and fewer numbers of deer surely mean that the former had something to do with the later. It is a very good example of “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” reasoning. Like Chanticleer, the rooster of Medieval lore, who believed that his crowing caused the sun to rise, the Rusty Shackleford school tries to reduce complex ecological phenomena into easily explained conspiracy theories. Who knows how many people will wage war on coyotes now, thinking they are somehow going to vastly increase deer herds?
The coyote and the bobcat are inheritors of an empire that was once ruled by wolves and cougars. They are not nearly as effective as their predecessors, but what effects they do have are not nearly as catastrophic as some would have us believe. They have every bit as much right to exist here as the deer do. True, their populations can and should be managed, but they should managed from a scientific perspective, not out of paranoia and conspiracy theories.