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Dealing with the Wile E. Coyote

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Over the past year or two, coyotes have gained a lot of media and therefore public attention. Reports of attacks on pets and even people have become common in the news and at town and city council meetings across the country. For the farm community coyote attacks are nothing new. They are killers. It’s what they do. They’re wild animals. They are not, as some like to argue, misunderstood and unloved wild dogs.

But in recent years farmers, just as with urbanites, have found that predator problems are getting worse. And just as for urbanites, there are no easy solutions for farmers and rural landowners in dealing with the Wile E. Coyote.

For many years now, farmers have seen the problem grow out of control and have been saying that governments need to do more to help them out. Chris Kennedy, chair of the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency, said coyotes are the main reason more farmers haven’t gone into raising sheep, in spite of high prices and high demand for lamb. “I’ve heard they’re the most difficult animal in North America to hunt or to trap. We’ve killed all the stupid ones, so now we’re dealing with the ones who’ve smartened up,” Kennedy told CBC radio last week.

At the end of June, the Ontario government finally responded to the call and announced the province is increasing the compensation farmers can access for damage caused by wildlife, including coyotes.

Government compensation levels have been a long-time bone of contention, since the 30-year-old rates don’t even come close to covering the financial costs caused by predation. Through the new Wildlife Damage Compensation Program livestock producers will now get higher compensation when their livestock or poultry are injured or killed by predatory wildlife or when bees and beehives are damaged by wildlife.

The program changes also expand the current list of wildlife species and variety of livestock that farmers can be compensated for.  The announced program will also add $50,000 to help fund livestock protection programs, which are primarily run by farm and trapping associations.

Still, coyotes have somehow managed to evoke public sympathy. Maybe it’s because people see coyotes as victims, too.

Development devours their natural habitat, just as it does farmland. That forces both wildlife and livestock producers to either intensify or to more remote land.  And increasingly coyotes are also moving into and around our towns and cities.

Either prospect suits coyotes. All because they are less likely to chase bony, snack-size hares and rodents through the woods when succulent and defenseless lambs or calves are sitting ducks in a pasture. Or when they are offered up a well fed family dog or cat wandering in a park or lounging on the backyard patio.

Calves make an easy lunch for coyotes and wolves

While cats and smaller dogs often simply “disappear”, the left-over carnage from a coyote attack suggests livestock and poultry really have no chance against them. Coyotes, through the generations, have come to rely on pastured animals for food. It isn’t that coyotes are getting more aggressive, they are simply smart opportunists that learn where to get an easy meal.

Even though compensation isn’t afforded for pet or people attacks, compensation still doesn’t fix the problem. Farmers will tell you they’ve tried many approaches to protect their animals and reduce or eliminate such kills. Guard dogs or donkeys and costly predator fencing works for some farmers but not for others. In some cases, the coyotes even kill the dogs or donkeys doing the protecting.  Wildlife deterrents such as repellents and lighting are also tried sometimes.

Perth-area sheep farmer Oliver Loten told CBC radio last week that he has taken out a loan to build a $100,000 enclosed barn because coyotes almost drove him out of business three years ago. Loten said the new rates go a long way to fixing the compensation problem, although like all farmers he’d really like to find a way to protect all his lambs.

When all else fails farmers and landowners bring in professional coyote hunters and trappers to remove the problem animals. This approach is fraught with criticism, in part because people don’t see coyotes’ actions as the animals’ “fault.” That criticism tends to stem from those who don’t actually suffer the losses. However with more attacks on urban pets and people, reality is beginning to set in and the criticism is beginning to wane.

Until the next BLOG.


Posted by OFAC on July 18th, 2011 :: Filed under Farm life,Housing,Media,Sheep,Wildlife
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