Coyotes and the ecology of fear…

I am now forced to support the killing of coyotes.

This week, as we put in for our antlerless hunting tags online, we were disturbed to learn of a new mandatory $5 fee added to all tags, a result of the predator control funding bill passed this year.

Far from the fields where their fates are most often sealed, coyotes were under attack in Utah’s State Capitol Building last legislative session. A bill was passed authorizing an increase in coyote bounties to $50, and $750,000 was allocated to the Division of Wildlife Resources and the Department of Agriculture and Food to fund coyote control programs.

It seems to be an antiquated approach to wildlife management, a relic from the days when we felt divinely inspired to populate and subjugate the West. It once seemed our destiny to eradicate wolves and drive the big cats into the canyons and cliffs. Then, in the pockets where danger and wildness once resided, we grazed livestock and caused the deserts to bloom. Our ancestors made a living where living once seemed impossible. It was no small feat, and we are here today due to their efforts.

However, we now find ourselves in an era of diminished wildness. The dark corners of mystery have mostly been explored, and encounters with danger are now desired – especially within Moab’s adventure culture – rather than avoided. To some these days, hearing the coyote’s chorus is a summer night’s blessing rather than an implied curse. To some – me among them – now is a time to connect the remaining bits of a West-that-once-was, constellating ecologies rather than eliminating them. Long ago, wolves and grizzlies blinked out of existence here, leaving Remus and Romulus, Ursa Major and Minor, to a lonely patrol of the night. I don’t want coyotes also relegated to a quiet and starry mythology.

In my reading on predator control efforts, I’ve found that killing coyotes does boost fawn survival rates… for a time. But nature has a way of seeking balance, even when we do our best to tip the scales in our favor.

During intense coyote eradication efforts, the canines produce larger litters. Also, coyotes from nearby ranges will happily move in to fill the void. It would require a sustained 70-80 percent kill rate across a long string of years and a vast expanse of soil to maintain some semblance of fawn safety. And, as the Utah Division of Wildlife website points out, “The most effective control efforts will remove coyotes after pair bonds and territories are set, and before pups are raised.” The agency recommends killing the animals in spring for the greatest effect; unfortunately, most bounty hunters will be out in the fall, hunting big game and their competing canine hunters at the same time. Thus, a larger coyote take would be required.

The statistics and guidelines are chillingly cold: Wait for bonding and mating to occur, then kill three-fourths of the population. For an animal that poses no threat to humans, coyotes have somehow managed to creep into the darkest recesses of our being, the places where fear and violence reside, the places once necessary for our survival – now the source of our suffering.

Coyotes will never kill so many fawns, calves or lambs that we starve. Coyotes will never drive whole populations of ungulates into oblivion. Only we have the ability to author that fate for other beings. And Utah has chosen to pen this future for coyotes.

Though this appeal continues to fall on deaf ears, I will persist with it: We need coyotes. They are one of our few remaining predators here. We need them for the health of the deer and the forest. The coyotes keep the deer moving, and moving deer don’t overgraze, thus keeping the grass and trees growing. Healthy, growing trees over streams keep the water cool and the fish alive. And coyotes keep deer numbers at a level the landscape can sustain. The howl of coyotes actually ripples through entire ecosystems. Nothing remains untouched – except, perhaps, for us.

Coyotes keep life in balance, but without regard for our needs and desires. So we kill them. And we do a poor job filling their void, maintaining life through the necessity of death. In fact, it seems that life is not our goal; rather, it is the ability to take it that we focus on.

My money now supports this ill-conceived effort. But my heart never will. Instead, I hold hope for the day when, in the words of Wallace Stegner, we finally have “a society to match the scenery.” It’s time we ceased striving for the converse.

ByBy Jen Jackson