WDAY: The News Leader

Published April 04, 2013, 01:11 PM

Coyote control program proves popular in North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A new state-sponsored program in North Dakota that helps connect landowners plagued by coyotes with hunters and trappers who can eliminate the pesky predators has proven popular, but some conservation groups say it is misguided.

By: BLAKE NICHOLSON,Associated Press, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A new state-sponsored program in North Dakota that helps connect landowners plagued by coyotes with hunters and trappers who can eliminate the pesky predators has proven popular, but some conservation groups say it is misguided.

The Coyote Catalog online database is a collaborative effort between the state Game and Fish Department and state Agriculture Department, and allows landowners to apply online to receive contact information for hunters and trappers, who also have registered. The database is patterned after a similar deer control program that has been around for a decade.

Coyotes have always been common in western North Dakota, but have expanded into the rest of the state. The animals are most active at night and no one has a good count on how many there are, but anecdotal accounts point to a growing population in recent years.

This winter, 51 landowners and 486 hunters used the catalog, nearly half of the total for the deer program in its peak years, according to the Game and Fish Department. There isn't an official number of coyotes killed yet, and officials expect to gather more information during annual public meetings later this month.

Some farmers and ranchers estimate that dozens of coyotes have been killed on their land, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said.

"Someone told me an almost unbelievable number, close to 60," he said.

Durnell Klain, a rancher in central North Dakota near Turtle Lake, said he hasn't lost any calves to coyotes yet, but worries about what will happen once he turns them out to summer pasture.

"The yard pressure is phenomenal," he said of coyotes hanging around his farmstead. "We hear them every day. We see them two or three times a week."

The coyote population uptick can partially be attributed to the absence of mange disease — a key factor that keeps coyote numbers in check, said Jeb Williams, assistant wildlife chief for the Game and Fish Department. Outbreaks of mange were reported in North Dakota in the late 1990s, but Williams said the disease is cyclical and not prevalent at the moment.

The federal Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services division has seen an increase in coyote calls in North Dakota. Last year there were 530 cases, up 20 percent from 2008, State Director Phil Mastrangelo said.

His division uses various methods to kill coyotes, and does not charge landowners for the service. There are only nine people to do the work, though, so programs such as the Coyote Catalog could provide a quicker resolution, he said.

But some conservation groups disagree with the method, saying killing coyotes is not the solution.

"What it does is actually increase the local coyote population," said Ashley DeLaup, a wildlife ecologist in Colorado with the California-based nonprofit Project Coyote, which promotes coexistence of people and coyotes. "They replace themselves unlike any other canid or even any other predator that I know of.

"Once there's lethal pressure, you're (killing) the old, weak, young and stupid ones, and you're creating an even more intelligent, adaptable predator in your territory," she said.

DeLaup said coyotes respond to hunting and trapping pressure by breeding at younger ages and having larger litters — leading to more coyotes in the hunted area and also pushing some out to other areas.

Killing off coyotes also can lead to other ecosystem problems, such as an increase in rodents as well as animals that eat songbirds and bird eggs, said Kirk Robinson, executive director of the Utah-based Western Wildlife Conservancy.

Robinson and DeLaup both advocate other methods, such as using dogs or llamas to protect calves and lambs, or putting material on fences that flaps in the wind and scares off wild animals.

"It does change the expense, but again, it's a matter of adapting to your environment," DeLaup said.

Klain said the idea of using such measures to combat coyotes is "totally ludicrous."

"There's balance in nature and there is no balance here. (Coyotes) have exploded, basically," he said. "They have no superior other than us."

Mastrangelo questioned the assertion that killing coyotes can lead to a population increase. His agency's program and the Coyote Catalog are aimed at dealing with local problems, he said.

"They're never intended to be a broad landscape population reduction effort," he said.

Other states have coyote control programs — the Utah Legislature, for example, approved one last year that pays people $50 for every coyote they kill. But Goehring and Williams said they are not aware of a program similar to the Coyote Catalog.

They think it could be a model for other states, especially those in which hunters need permission to access private land. Williams added he hasn't heard opposition to the program in North Dakota.

"We recognize that it's a new program, and a lot of opinions are probably yet to be formed," he said. "All in all, we've heard it to be positive right now, at least the concept."

No decision has been made on whether to continue the program next year.