A proposal to limit coyote hunting in New Hampshire has led to a spirited debate over the abundant animals and their impact on human and wildlife populations.
As discussed on The Exchange, HB 442 proposes prohibiting hunting coyotes during pup-rearing season. But the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee voted to recommend that lawmakers reject the bill.
How would limiting the hunting season impact coyotes?
Rick Van de Poll, an ecosystem management consultant and a supporter of HB 422, says halting hunting during pup-rearing season would allow the animals respite to teach their young "and perhaps learn the appropriate behaviors in engaging with human food resources” -- that is, avoiding raiding garbage cans or eating domestic chickens.
But Mark Ellingwood, chief of the Wildlife Division in the N.H. Fish & Game Department, calls that conjecture. "I think it's somewhat academic," he said. "It's a theory I've heard a number of times. I view it as speculation rather than fact."
(To hear the full Exchange conversation, visit here. Interview excerpts have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Ellingwood also objects to legislative intrusion in wildlife management: "It’s very difficult to manipulate statutes. That authority really belongs within the flexible purview of the department. We have a long track record of having been very successful to the benefit of all wildflife species."
There was a time, he said, when hunting season and wildlife managment policies were set by the legislature. "Problems with that led to giving that authority to the Fish and Game Department. We’d like to retain it. That's an important issue for us."
That authority has been a sore point among some who feel that because Fish and Game Commission members must have hunting or fishing licenses they tend to favor those activities over other forms of outdoor recreation and wildlife conservation.
"There has been frustration on the part of those of us who don't necessarily feel like we have a voice on the Commission," said Rick Van de Poll.
What are the hunting rules now when it comes to coyotes? And how healthy is the population?
According to Patrick Tate, furbearer biologist with the N.H. Fish and Game Department, coyote hunting is allowed at night from Jan. 1 through March 31. The rest of the year, coyote hunting is legal one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset. Nov. 1 to March 31 is trapping season.
Coyotes, meanwhile, have spread throughout the state. By one calculation, there are about 4,5oo animals here, according to Tate. But that could well be an underestimation. "They have learned how to survive in neighborhoods, suburbs, downtown Manchester. You'll see coyotes everywhere," said Van de Poll.
Both Van de Poll and Ellingwood agree coyotes are an essential part of the ecosytem, helping to maintain a balance between predators and prey and helping to control the population of small mammals, including rodents that might be carrying pathogens that affect humans, such as Lyme disease. They also kill deer.
As for overpopulation worries, Ellingwood said. "My measure of overpopulation is: Are coyotes having an impact on our ability to manage other species. In that case, I can tell you the deer population is doing very well in New Hampshire. So, from a management perspective, we’re content where we are. Right now we have a healthy, well-managed population of deer."
What are some of the myths surrounding coyotes?
"Probably among the most common myths I hear is that they're cunning and bloodthirsty killers. Yes, they're cunning and intelligent, but they're predators, and predators kill to survive. They teach their young to do the same thing," said Van de Poll.
When it comes to complaints concerning wild animals, Elllingwood said, coyotes amount to only about 3 percent of annual complaints (with black bears being by far the largest group). "Many are driven by a lack of familiarity, fear, unwarranted, generally," he said.
Aside from hunting, in what other ways do people "manage" coyotes?
Chris Schadler, wild-canid biologist and NH/VT Representative for Project Coyote and co-founder of New Hampshire Wildlife Coalition, says she used a non-lethal technique when she had a sheep farm, in a sense training them to remain on the other side of her fence. Schadler likens coyotes to dogs.
"I didn’t want to kill any or trap any. I managed my sheep intensively and kept them safe day and night. If I saw coyotes anywhere near my fence, I would leap over the fence and run after them screaming and hollering. I looked insane," she said. "I used airhorns. I used anything I could to convince them that I was terrifying. After about four years, they were not a problem.”