Sunday, March 1, 2015

Coyotes Proliferate Despite Year-Round Hunting

There was no controversy here, deep in rural Clearfield County.

Mosquito Creek Sportsmen's Association recently held its 24th annual coyote hunt. Almost 4,000 hunters registered to compete for nearly $40,000 in prize money.

It's the oldest and biggest of the 20 or so such contests held across Pennsylvania each winter.

The hunts are not universally loved. Within the past year, hunts elsewhere spawned lawsuits, regulatory changes and protests.

But at Mosquito Creek, the mood was festive.

With an hour to go before final weigh-ins — the heaviest coyotes earn the largest cash prizes — the club parking lot was overflowing. Trucks and SUVs stretched out single-file along the entry road.

Hunters — mostly men, but a few women, too — were lined up outside the musky check station, coyotes at their feet. Many of the hunters were still dressed in their woodland and snow camo.

A young spectator with bright pink highlights in her blond hair pointed excitedly at each new coyote, saying, “I hope I get to touch one.” Little boys eating icicles played hide and seek. Families squeezed in and out of the packed clubhouse where food, drinks and souvenir hats, patches and T-shirts were being sold.

In the end, 162 coyotes — the most since 2011 — were registered.

“When you're here looking at them, that seems like a lot. But if you go by how many are probably out there, this isn't making a dent,” said club spokesman Frank Josefik. “It's a grain of sand.”

‘Maxed out everywhere'

Experts say Josefik is probably right.

Licensed hunters and trappers killed 1,810 coyotes across Pennsylvania in 1990. In 2013, the total was a record 40,956.

But coyotes are thriving, here and across the Northeast, said Tom Hardisky, a biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“They're pretty much maxed out everywhere,” he said.

That's a testament to their versatility, said Jon Kligo, a wildlife research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station in South Carolina. They eat everything from rabbits and squirrels to insects, fruit and nuts.

They also prey on white-tailed deer fawns. They're not the only predator to do so, but they are among the best, he said.

“When it comes to predation on deer, it's really variable, depending on where you are, the predator community, whether you've got bears or bobcats, or even domestic dogs in cases,” Kligo said. “The relative importance of each species can vary.

“The one thing that's most consistent is coyotes are always at the top of the list or near the top of the list everywhere.”

A very open season

A desire by hunters to protect deer sparked a lot of the organized coyote hunts.
They're likely not accomplishing much, despite incredibly flexible rules.

Trappers in Pennsylvania can pursue coyotes for 120 days, and hunters can shoot them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

That's unique: There's no other species for which it is legal to hunt even when adults are raising young, Hardisky said.

The same rules apply in Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. New York and New Jersey prohibit hunting from May through September.
But no one's ever been able to significantly decrease the number of coyotes, said Duane Diefenbach, director of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research. They're too resilient.

“They control their own destiny,” Diefenbach said.

Contests challenged ...

That has not stopped people — mostly animal welfare groups — from condemning the hunts.

In July, an Animal Legal Defense Fund lawsuit in Oregon ended an 8-year coyote hunting contest. The suit claimed the contest violated state gambling laws.

In December, Project Coyote persuaded the California Fish and Game Commission to ban coyote contests statewide.

In January, protesters in Arizona picketed a predator hunter convention. The hunters were there only because officials in their previous host city in New Mexico passed a resolution opposing organized coyote hunts.

Last month, the New Mexico state Senate approved a bill prohibiting coyote contests.
Jon Way, founder of Eastern Coyote/Coywolf Research, expects challenges to arise in more places.

Way, author of “the world's first carnivore conservation act,” which he has proposed in Massachusetts, said wildlife agencies cater almost solely to hunters, treating predators such as coyotes “like trash.”

“There's a minority of people who casually kill them, and they're basically given the green light to do whatever they want year-round,” he said. “Predator management needs to be more inclusive.”

... and defended

Dave Putnam, president of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said he has not received any complaints about coyote hunts, nor does he expect any.

“Pennsylvania will be one of the last states to go that way, just because we have so many hunters,” Putnam said.

Adam Fabian of Ohiopyle, who runs the hunt for the Laurel Highlands Coon Hunters Club, said the contests simply mirror the growing popularity of predator hunting as a sport.

Hunts offer an opportunity for camaraderie, noted Peter Cupari of Fallowfield, who runs the Charleroi Sportsmen's Association hunt.

“It's just a good time to sit around and talk about coyotes, raffle off a few guns and have some good food and drinks,” he said.

If anything, coyote hunts have earned the animals some admiration, said Steve Miner of Grove City, who checked in three coyotes at Mosquito Creek.

“I hunt everything. But I real-ly love coyote hunting because they're smart — really one of the smartest animals I've ever seen,” he said. “That's what makes it so fun.”

Fur bearer harvests

Pennsylvania coyote harvests have been trending upward. Here's a look at how the take compared with that of other species in 2013.
Raccoon: 197,380
Muskrat: 83,880
Red fox: 61,392
Opossum: 57,138
Coyote: 40,956
Gray fox: 15,700
Beaver: 15,134

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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