Farm Horizons, April 2017

Sharing the land with coyotes

By Jennifer Von Ohlen

While rustic regions of Minnesota might expect to hear a wolf’s howl during the evening hours, the state’s central residents are more familiar with the night-cry of a coyote.

Coyotes are members of the wild dog family, averaging about 30 pounds (in Minnesota) and standing 18 inches high at the shoulders. They are highly adaptable, and can survive in any eco-system in the US – forest, swamp, desert, farmland, etc.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR), coyotes are the state’s most abundant large predator, with their main diet consisting of rabbits, mice, and other small mammals. Being opportunistic, coyotes have also been known to occasionally raid garbage cans, hunt larger animals (such as turkeys, calves, and sheep), and kill domestic cats and small dogs.

Even though they may show an interest in some people’s pets, McLeod County Wildlife Supervisor and Statewide Furbearer Committee member Joseph Stangel stated, “Coyotes are no threat to humans,” and that they usually try to stay away from people.

While states such as California have claimed coyote confrontations, no coyote attacks have been reported in Minnesota. Investigations of the reported out-of-state episodes linked the events to humans initially feeding the coyotes, or the predators becoming used to humans in densely-populated areas.

Hunting and trapping coyotes

While perhaps not as popular as white-tailed deer or waterfowl game hunting, the number of coyote trappers has risen from 600 in 2000, to 2,300 in 2015. The number of coyotes harvested increased from 2,000 to 11,000, according to Trapper Harvest Statistics.

Coyotes are not protected in Minnesota, and “can be taken at any time and by any method except artificial lights, poisons, or motor vehicles,” according to the MN DNR. They have a continuously open season and require no license for taking.

Although there are several reasons a hunter or trapper may pursue coyotes, whether for sport or protection of property, Meeker County Area Wildlife Supervisor Cory Netland said, “It is a misconception to believe that a ‘bounty’ would reduce the population” – if that is an individual’s motive.

Historically, trying to control the wild coyote population via hunting or trapping has shown to be ineffective. Whenever there was a decreased population, coyotes exhibited higher pregnancy rates, larger litters, and increased pup survival. In fact, coyotes can annually withstand a 70 percent population mortality rate, according to a 1975 study on controlling coyote population.

In general, the population has remained steady since the mid 2000s.

While their numbers have remained constant, coyotes have often been held responsible for the decline of other wildlife populations. Stangel, however, said this belief is another misconception, and that “many other factors are to blame for the decline in some populations.”

“Typically, the answer is tied to habitat,” he added. According to 2015 Trapper Harvest Statistics, coyotes and red foxes have an inverse relationship when it comes to harvest count and, therefore, population size.

During the 1980s, widespread logging and fire activity within Minnesota forged a better environment for small mammals, which also attracted their predators.

Before coyotes moved into the area, there was an abundance of red foxes. Because these animals have smaller territories than coyotes, more of them would inhabit a given area, thus creating more predators in that region.

Since coyotes have larger home ranges, Stangel explained there are physically fewer of them on the landscape.

Even though a coyote’s presence can mean fewer predators in an area, many Minnesota residents would still like to be rid of their coyote neighbor. Netland said it is important to consider whether the predator has actually caused any problems before choosing to remove it. He explained that exterminating a non-troublesome coyote could cause a more aggressive one to move into the territory, thus creating more serious damage.

He also stated it is more likely for a free-range chicken to be attacked by hawks, owls, raccoons, skunks, weasels, or minks than by a coyote.

If a coyote is causing problems, the situation needs to be addressed on a case-by-case basis by property owners or tenants. The MN DNR does not trap, shoot, or relocate coyotes.


Coyote do’s and dont’s

If there is concern about a possible coyote being around the area, consider the following MN DNR advice on which actions to take and which ones to avoid:

Do:

• Keep all garbage containers, wildlife feeders, and other food sources secure.

• Contain small dogs and cats in kennels; supervise them when outside.

• Vaccinate all pets for distemper, rabies, parvo, and other diseases recommended by a veterinarian.

• Install a coyote-proof fence.

• Harass (chasing, shouting, etc.) any coyotes that do not immediately flee from people.

Don’t:

• Feed coyotes;

• Leave pet food outside; or

• Allow cats/dogs unattended outside.

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