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400,000 Coyotes Are Killed in the U.S. Each Year… The Reason Why Will Make You Livid

At least 400,000 coyotes are killed each year in the United States. That’s an average of nearly 1,100 individuals a day.

So why isn’t the government doing something to stop it? Well, mainly because they have been orchestrating a discreet mass slaughter of coyotes for nearly a century.

Steve Thompson via USFWS

Steve Thompson via USFWS

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency specializes in killing coyotes. The agency sends helicopters with snipers to fly over coyote habitats and shoot them on-sight, with the intent of killing as many as possible. A government-paid airborne gunner working for the USDA will kill as many as 100 coyotes a day.

Elsewhere, hundreds of coyotes are shot by on-the-ground Wildlife Services agents, or killed in snares, or mortally injured in foot traps, or poisoned, or gassed, or bludgeoned to death. Altogether, the government kills at least 80,000 coyotes a year, with the annual cost of $20 million. That’s taxpayer money. And it’s been happening since 1931.

As for the other 320,000 annual coyote deaths, most of are slain in predator killing contests across the U.S.

Who can shoot the largest coyote. Who can shoot the most. The winners get a prize: a couple hundred dollars, or a new assault rifle, and of course bragging rights.

Besides the chance to win a prize, what really motivates people to hunt coyotes so enthusiastically? Most people don’t eat coyote meat. And in 2014 pelts were worth an average of only $65 each — not especially lucrative.

The top reason given by coyote hunting proponents isn’t food, or money — it’s population management. These people, who voluntarily go on hunts specifically to kill coyotes, apparently believe that their motives are inherently noble, and reputable. Killing coyotes, according to the popular claim, protects livestock. It controls populations. It helps farmers and ranchers and the ecosystem as a whole. Or at least that’s the claim. The science disagrees.

John Harrison via QUEST

Coyotes are a predator species. They tend to eat small animals, like gophers and frogs. A pair or group of coyotes might go after a small deer in the winter, but will eat fruits and berries in the summer and fall. Livestock is not typically even on a coyote’s menu.

Nearly 100 years since the national coyote killing campaign began, North America’s wild dog is more prevalent than ever. That’s because coyotes are uniquely adaptable. Killing them does not rid you of them. As hunters remove more and more coyotes from a habitat, the small mammal populations that make up their prey will increase. When food becomes more prevalent, coyotes can adapt by increasing the size of their litter.

In a seven-year study of coyote populations published in 2005, Eric Gese, of the USDA’s Wildlife Services own research center, found that coyote culling does not facilitate population management of the species. Coyote-killing might actually result in the opposite of the intended effect.

By killing coyotes, hunters give an unnecessary foothold to species lower in the food chain, and nature responds by creating more coyotes to control those populations. Therefore, the go-to reason for coyote-killing is, in effect, a great reason not to kill them.

Which brings us to the second-most common excuse for killing coyotes: It’s a “challenge.” It’s “something to do” in the hunting off-season. It’s “fun.” This argument is more qualitative, and therefore not as readily disputable. Most will agree, however, that just because something is gratifying does not mean that it is right.

Marc Bekoff, one of the world’s leading canid researchers, has observed that a coyote’s emotional reaction to the death of a loved one isn’t much different than a human’s. Coyotes, like humans and many other species, experience grief and sadness after the loss of life.

While killing a coyote may be fun for the hunter, the death has very real consequences for the remaining population. Coyotes are social mammals, much like humans, and they need each other to live a happy and fulfilling life, and they hurt when someone takes that away. Can something truly be considered “fun” if it hurts someone else?

If there were a species with technology superior to ours, and that species were hunting us as we hunt coyotes, all would consider it an egregious atrocity that must be stopped. So why is it that we allow the indiscriminate slaughter of coyotes to continue?

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Matthew M. Sullivan holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Grand Valley State University, with emphases in fiction and nonfiction. He lives smack-dab between some railroad tracks and Grand Rapids Michigan's third-busiest road, and spends his time studying film and literary fiction.