Coyote Numbers Increasing

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“Many sportsmen and women reported seeing and hearing more coyotes during the 2004-05 hunting and trapping season than in previous years,” said Frank Jezioro , Director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “Hunters and landowners have expressed concern that increasing coyote numbers will be detrimental to wildlife populations and result in significant predation losses to livestock.”

Data, collected through observational surveys conducted annually by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Section, has shown a steady increase in coyote sightings during the past several years. These coyote populations are not evenly distributed across the state, and coyote sightings were reported more commonly in the southern and southwestern regions and less frequently in the eastern panhandle and mountain regions of the state.

Historically, the coyote was found in the Great Plains of the West. During the past 50 years, however, the coyote has expanded its range into most of the eastern states, including all 55 counties in West Virginia . The cause for this eastern expansion is primarily related to the following two factors: extinction of the eastern wolf (prior to extirpation, wolves dominated other canids in the wild); and re-establishment of abundant deer herds (deer may constitute a significant food source for coyotes).

The impact of coyotes on other wildlife species, especially big game species such as deer, is generally insignificant. Studies of the coyote have shown that most of their diet is made up of small rodents; however, during the early fawning period they can be an important predator of white-tailed deer. Throughout most of West Virginia , deer numbers are high enough that coyote predation is not likely to significantly lower the herd. Coyotes in other states have been problems only where there is a low deer population and poor habitat combined with severe winter weather.

The coyote can also be a significant predator on sheep, especially during lambing time. Most livestock predation is caused by a few animals, and the best predator control programs target these offending animals for removal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Service program has implemented a very effective predator control effort within the major sheep producing counties in West Virginia . This program has afforded shepherds in the state considerable relief from their coyote depredation problems.

A number of Northeastern states, especially those with restricted trapping regulations, are experiencing coyote numbers increasing in suburban/rural interface and within city limits. In some cases, coyotes are threatening small dogs and cats and actually preying upon these domestic animals. Pet owners should obey leash laws and be wary of leaving small pets unattended.

“The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has taken several steps to assist landowners in their efforts to target depredating coyotes and provide sportsmen and women with liberal hunting and trapping opportunities for coyotes,” said Jezioro. “For example, the coyote is an unprotected species in West Virginia with a year-round hunting season; the use of amber colored spot lights has been legalized while predator hunting at night from January 1 to July 31;and the use of relaxing snares, an effective tool for taking coyotes, has been legalized for use by trappers and landowners to harvest these animals.”

“Coyotes are very adaptable and have the remarkable ability to survive despite heavy hunting and trapping pressure and other predator control efforts,” Jezioro said. “One thing is certain – the coyote is here to stay in West Virginia . We will need to learn to adapt to living with coyotes, and that includes enjoying liberal hunting and trapping opportunities afforded by this adaptable animal.”