Due to a four-year downward trend of antelope population numbers and fawn survival in Game Management Unit 3A, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is contracting with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to remove a portion of the coyote population to facilitate the recovery of that pronghorn population. APHIS will conduct predator management activities in the western part of Unit 3A, located northwest of Snowflake, in the next few weeks.
Department officials say these types of wildlife management plans are designed to ease fawn crop mortalities due to predators during the critical first few weeks following birth, when they are least mobile and most vulnerable.
In explaining this management action decision, Dave Cagle, game specialist in the department's Pinetop regional office, says, "Survival rates of pronghorn fawns have been poor since 1999, with observed average fawn crops during this time of 15 fawns for every 100 does. This population is decreasing, and needs a boost to better ensure its long-term viability. If the ratios can be increased to about 30 fawns to 100 does, then the pronghorn population will at least stabilize or slightly increase."
Because of continued loss of habitat and dwindling antelope population numbers occurring over the past few decades, pronghorn in Arizona are regarded and managed by the department as a species of special concern. Cagle says that fences, highways, human encroachment, competition with livestock, water distribution, range conditions and predation all influence pronghorn populations.
He notes, "Since the department has little control over these factors, we are limited to only those management tools available to us. Research has clearly and repeatedly shown that coyote-caused fawn predation can be a significant limiting factor affecting pronghorn fawn survival. Predator control measures, applied at the right time of year and with the right application, can greatly enhance dwindling antelope populations by improving fawn survival."
Cagle acknowledges that not everyone is going to agree with each wildlife management decision made by the department. "However," he says, "most people do agree with our goal to maintain the greatest diversity of wildlife. The department's ultimate goal in this particular management effort is to ensure that both coyote and pronghorn populations remain viable. We don't want just coyotes, nor do we want just antelope. Like most people, we want both, and through aggressive and effective management, we can have both. "
The department manages for the sustained welfare of entire populations, always realizing there will be individual losses and the occasional need for limited removals.
"The department's objective with this plan is simply to limit coyote predation on newborn antelope fawns in a specific area for a brief period to allow an increased number of fawns to survive and enter the adult population. The action is not designed to suppress or eliminate coyotes in the area for an extended period.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission and the department clearly recognize the role and value of coyotes, along with all other predators, and we manage for a sustained and viable population of these animals as well," Cagle says.
The Unit 3A predator management plan has been reviewed and approved by affected landowners in the area, as well as the Show Low Habitat Partnership Committee. Interested parties with questions can contact Cagle at the Game and Fish regional office in Pinetop at (928) 367-4281.