Friday, March 9, 2012

Open Season On Coyotes!
HSU Opposed to S.B. 245

The Humane Society of Utah is calling upon Governor Herbert to veto legislation which would appropriate $750,000 of state funds, on an annual basis, to increase the bounty on Utahʼs coyotes. This would lead to the indiscriminate slaughter each year of as many as 20,000 Utah coyotes, whom some Native Americans regard as “Gods Dog.”

While this legislation is titled “The Mule Deer Protection Act,” the billʼs sponsor contradicts this label, saying he sponsored the bill after a constituent reported losing a significant number of sheep to predators. Senator Ralph Okerlund told the Salt Lake Tribune on February 9 “this program is really targeted toward the livestock men than the sportsmen.” If this is the case, then the Senator himself begs the question whether SB 245 is intended to protect deer...or sheep?

To the Humane Society's knowledge, supporters of this bill have not produced sufficient evidence to back claims that coyotes are significantly impacting Utahʼs deer population or sheep herds To the contrary, wildlife officials in Utah dispute both the effectiveness of a bounty program as well as the assertion that our stateʼs mule deer are struggling.

According to an Associated Press report dated March 7, John Shivik, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said “while deer populations are lower than historical peaks they have remained steady for the past few years. Many factors can cause a reduction in deer herds, including predators, habitat degradation or environmental changes.” Shivik goes on to say a bounty program does not address problems in specific areas. "Bounties tend to encourage people to go where the coyotes are the easiest to get," Shivik said. "They are the most inefficient way to remove coyotes" from areas where they are a threat.”

C.J. Winand, the nationally recognized wildlife biologist and deer hunter who is also a staff writer for Bowhunter.com and Deer Hunting Magazine claims “we lose more deer to roadkills, birth complications, viruses and disease. Do coyotes negatively affect deer herds? This answer is, generally speaking...no!”

Researchers believe coyotes are actually beneficial predators whose main diet consists of small rodents, rabbits, raccoons, birds and fruit. Coyotes rarely consume sheep or deer. Instead they control populations of smaller mammals which in turn, protects the grass which cattle eat (many species of birds also rely on grasslands for protective habitat).

Ironically, killing more coyotes leads to more coyotes being born. Scientists point to the social structure of this particular species. Coyotes live in groups where the alpha male and female reproduce. If one member of that pair is killed, the groupʼs social structure is disrupted, and the rest of the surviving females start having more pups to replenish the pack. The result? Within a year or two, there are as many or more coyotes in an area where pack members have been killed...than there were before.

This leads to a never ending cycle of slaughter that continues costing taxpayers more and more millions of dollars without addressing potential issues.

The justification for eradicating coyotes is at best dubious. A larger percentage of sheep die from disease and bad weather. Paradoxically, killing coyotes puts sheep at even greater risk. According to Robert Crabtree of Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies, a group that has researched coyotes throughout the West, the surviving coyote populations have fewer adults to hunt, with more pups to feed. Under these circumstances, sheep become a more attractive food source.

Luckily, there are proven, humane methods to keep sheep safe. In the 1970ʼs some innovative ranchers started using guard animals like llamas and donkeys, who have an instinctual dislike of coyotes. Others began using specially bred and trained dogs, like the Great Pyrenees, to protect their flocks. Montana rancher Becky Weed says her guard dogs “are with the sheep 24/7. A government trapper cannot be.”

Ranchers like Becky Weed do everything they can to avoid attracting scavengers to pastures where their sheep graze. They invest in electrified fences and bring their flocks into corrals at night. They also keep them in or near sheds during lambing.

It is the Humane Society of Utahʼs hope that this information sheds new light on S.B. 245, a misdirected bill which is not only aimed at annihilating a species beneficial to our ecosystem, but also endangers non-targeted animals like cats and dogs (as well as other wildlife) through the indiscriminate use of inhumane traps and poisonous devises such as M-44ʼs (sodium cyanide and Compound 1080).

The Humane Society of Utah stands firmly opposed to Senate Bill 245. It is our belief, the bill is inhumane, ineffective, far too costly and endangers others not targeted by the program (including humans) while discouraging the use of non-lethal methods available to deal with Utahʼs population of coyotes.

The HSU respectfully calls upon the Governor to veto this legislation and prevent this law from taking effect in Utah.

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