Senate Bill 55: Coyote Hunting with Snowmobiles
The state legislature is considering a bill that allows landowners to use snowmobiles to hunt coyotes. Under the proposal a rancher can chase a coyote with a snowmobile until it can be shot from a stationary position. Ranchers who are loosing livestock to the coyotes say this is needed legislation - but some wildlife scientists warn it's the wrong approach.
By Charles Michael Ray
As a general rule ranchers don't like coyotes. If you don't believe this spend some time at the Black Hills Stock Show and ask a few of the guys in cowboy hats what they think about the idea of hunting coyotes with snowmobiles.
"I like the idea, I'm a hunter. I'm not a big fan of predatory animals so I'm a fan of it I guess," says Sean Tobin from Rapid City
"You know they're a predator and we need to figure out any avanues we can use to alleviate the problem there I'm plum for it," says Todd Trask from Wasta.
"Well, I think anyway they can kill a coyote is a good deal," says Sam Seymour from Murdo.
In South Dakota ranchers have done a pretty good job controlling predators. The last resident wolf was shot in the mid 1920's, bears were pretty much eradicated before then. We've done in the wolves and the bears. So then why haven't we managed to kill off the coyotes?
"Coyotes have been a quote problem for more than a century and killing them wantonly and going out and trapping and snaring and shooting them from airplanes and now possibly snowmobiles it just hasn't worked," says Marc Bekoff Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado.
Marc Bekoff has studied coyotes for the past four decades. He edited the book, "Coyotes: Biology Behavior and Management." Bekoff says allowing ranchers to shoot coyotes from snowmobiles might actually make the problem worse. He says indiscriminately killing coyotes could replace a good coyote with a bad one.
"If hunting on snowmobiles is legalized there is no doubt in my mind that the coyote quote problem is not going to disappear," says Bekoff.
Researchers also point to evidence that shows when predators like coyotes are heavily hunted the population can increase. This is because there is a larger food base which results in larger litters. Bekoff says one result of a history of poor predator management is that coyotes are now everywhere. Researchers like Bekoff say big cities like Los Angles and Seattle now have significant coyote populations. One study shows that Chicago is home to as many as two thousand urban coyotes.
"You know in Chicago a couple of years a coyote who walked right down I think it was Lakeshore Drive or somewhere and walked into a delicatessen and went into a cooler where they keep soft drinks," says Bekoff.
But South Dakota sheep ranchers like Tammy Basel don't necessarily care if past management has resulted in the urbanization of coyotes in other states. She just wants the coyotes to stop taking her lambs in South Dakota.
"Two weeks ago there was a snow storm, my sheep were out bedded down gently covered with snow. The coyote come in and took a yearling ewe valued at approximately 250 dollars," says Basil.
Basel testified in favor of Senate Bill 55 in Pierre. She supports giving ranchers the right to use snowmobiles to hunt and kill coyotes.
"When this coyote come in I believe as a private property owner I should have the right to go and track that individual down and take care of the problem," says Basil.
While ranchers want to remove problem coyotes, the State Game Fish and Parks Department testified against Senate Bill 55 in committee calling it unfair chase. The USDA is one of the other government agencies sometimes called in to take out a predator like a coyote. Over the last few years the agency has spent around 57-million dollars annually on Wildlife Damages nationwide. USDA researcher Dr Julie Young says rather than allowing landowners to kill coyotes by all means, the agency targets predators that are causing problems.
"We try to selectively remove coyotes. And from the sounds of this wouldn't be selective this would be any coyote that's seen from a snowmobile and not using selective techniques just isn't as effective," says Young.
Young says using certain types of guard dogs and removing dead carcass from the property are often the most effective means of protecting livestock. Scientists like Marc Bekoff stress that running down coyotes with snowmobiles will not solve problem.
"Look, what we're doing has not worked. So you don't have to be an animal rights nut or a wildlife this nut. The data shows very clearly that what we're doing has not worked. So you know let's change our ways," says Bekoff.
Senate Bill 55 has now passed the state senate and is on to the house. Regardless of the outcome of this legislation, wildlife biologists say coyotes are survivors. They seem to thrive in adversity. So it's not likely the wiley coyote is going anywhere soon.
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