11/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Andrew Jenner Virginia Correspondent
WOODSTOCK, Va. — Coyotes aren’t picky eaters, they’re not choosy about which neighborhood they live in and they have a lot of pups, meaning they can survive and thrive just about anywhere.
Since migrating from farther west to the Mid-Atlantic over the past several decades, coyotes have become well established in Virginia, from remote, forested parts of the state to its suburban and urban areas. Because coyotes sometimes prey on small ruminants and other livestock, their arrival adds one more management challenge to many farmers’ lists of concerns.
About 50 people gathered in Woodstock, Va., recently to learn more about coyotes and coyote management at an informational meeting organized by Bobby Clark, an Extension agent based in Shenandoah County. Clark organized the meeting after a group of citizens asked the board of supervisors to consider implementing a bounty program on coyotes.
Clark said anecdotal evidence — based on how many people are seeing and hearing coyotes — suggests the population has continued to increase in and around Shenandoah County over the past several years. He also said that while he hasn’t heard that farmers are experiencing a corresponding rise in livestock losses, producers are wise not to ignore the presence of coyotes.
“If you’re going to have sheep or goats in this county, I think for the most part, dealing with coyotes is something that you better have in your management plan,” Clark said.
The first speaker at the informational meeting was Dr. James Parkhurst, a wildlife specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension. Because of the coyote’s adaptability, Parkhurst told the audience that getting rid of them simply isn’t going to happen.
“One of the things that we have to recognize is that this is an animal that is here to stay,” said Parkhurst. “It’s not going to go away.”
Parkhurst also said that bounty programs across the country have a 150-year history of “total failure” at reducing coyote populations for any significant period of time. One major reason for this is that coyote reproduction is so fast that a population reduced by up to 70 percent in one year can completely recover by the next. In the 15 Virginia counties where bounty programs now exist, Parkhurst said, the estimated take through the programs is no more than 1 percent (coyotes killed by people who don’t turn in carcasses for bounties increase this figure somewhat, however).
Other drawbacks of bounty programs, he said, include potential for fraud and abuse, the possibility that people will kill dogs mistaken for coyotes, and the fact that they may incentivize hunters to kill coyotes that aren’t eating livestock. This is a problem, Parkhurst said, because coyotes are territorial. If a coyote that doesn’t prey on livestock is killed, that territory will quickly be filled by another animal that may have a taste for sheep or goats — potentially creating a new problem where one didn’t previously exist.
Because of these concerns, a number of Virginia counties that enacted bounty programs have since repealed them, and of the 15 that currently exist, only nine have been funded by local governments. In the Shenandoah Valley, Warren and Page counties have funded bounty programs, and Augusta County has one that is currently unfunded. Shenandoah County Administrator Mary Beth Price said her board of supervisors is not currently considering establishing a bounty program.
Also speaking at the meeting was Corey Childs, an animal science Extension agent based in Loudoun County. Childs discussed the pros and cons of three guardian animal species — dogs, llamas and donkeys — commonly used to protect livestock. He described guardian animals as just one “tool in the toolbox” for protecting herds from coyote predation, together with other tools such as good fences, scare devices, trapping or shooting specific problem animals, and others.
Stacey Coggins, a wildlife specialist with the USDA’s Wildlife Services, also spoke about the tools he uses to get rid of individual coyotes in response to complaints and losses from farmers. One of several full-time trappers employed by the USDA in Virginia, Coggins uses foothold traps, snares and poison devices to kill coyotes that have caused livestock losses.
Given that coyotes are now a fact of life in Virginia, the speakers encouraged the audience to learn about the animals and take proper steps to prevent, minimize and react to coyote predation of livestock. The key, they said, is employing a variety of techniques and taking advantage of the expertise and assistance available through Virginia Cooperative Extension and the USDA.
“There is no one solution,” said Parkhurst.