March 12, 2010

It's time to start respecting coyotes

— This commentary is in response to an article written by Bob Humphrey in the Press Herald on Dec. 4: ''Maybe it's time to turn sights on coyotes.''

As a wildlife researcher here in Maine, the focus of my work is carnivores and their relationship to the larger ecosystem of which we are a part.

In my research and outreach projects, I have spoken with many hunters, and I recognize their concern for the acceptance of their sport by the larger community. Likewise, members of the larger community in Maine have shared their interests and concerns regarding our wildlife with me.

Thus I was in disbelief when I first read this article about killing coyotes under the guise of ''hunting.'' Many people in the community can understand respectfully killing an animal for its meat, but that understanding ends when the killing is done for ''fun'' or for some unfounded control tactic.

RISKING PUBLIC SUPPORT

Mr. Humphrey stated: ''Predator hunting can be a lot of fun.'' If hunters want to project themselves as true sportsmen, killing a valuable carnivore for ''fun'' will without a doubt decrease public support of hunting in general.

I would encourage hunters to read the life of Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife biology. Leopold was an avid hunter, and in his younger days as a forester, he saw no value in our native carnivores.

But with the disruption of ecosystems that resulted from federally supported predator control, he came to understand the value of carnivores. He became a voice not only for the preservation of game animals, but also for predators.

He once stated in his Sand County Almanac, ''Harmony with the land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand, and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators. The land is one organism.''

Mr. Humphrey initiates his article with the statement that the 2008 deer hunting season was the ''worst deer season in recent memory.'' Using this comment, he proceeds on through his logic for killing coyotes.

He states that coyotes are ''public enemy No. 1 on a deer hunter's list.'' From what scientific source is this attitude based? Or is it based on science at all?

Coyotes are a valuable native carnivore, and carnivores kill other animals in order to survive, and in doing so participate in the great design of nature. Mr. Humphrey's simplistic view of the relationship between predator and prey in no way portrays the vital, complex relationship between coyotes and deer.

Bears also are known to be effective predators of deer. But Mr. Humphrey makes no mention of bear hunting. Why?

As a scientist, I understand how information about the natural world can be manipulated and taken out of context to fit the writer's own belief system or agenda. I find it interesting that Mr. Humphrey makes no mention of the dramatic effect that the forest practices in Maine have on our deer herds, especially those in the north and Down East.

It is well known by hunters that the destruction of deer yards is a serious concern for the protection and survival of deer in winter.

In fact, Gerald Lavigne, in a 1995 study of eastern coyotes and their impact on white-tailed deer in Maine, said this about the deer in northern Maine: ''Major improvements in sustainable deer populations will only occur when, and if, the quantity and quality of wintering habitat increases.''

BE CAREFUL ABOUT RESEARCH

Be careful when research is cited out of context as an excuse to kill our native carnivore:''Results of a 1995 study claimed that coyotes account for up to 30 percent deer mortality here.'' What study? What part of Maine is ''here''? It makes a difference.

How many of these deer would have died from other causes anyway? People do their fellow hunters a great diservice by manipulating information that they count on to be true.

In addition, blithely stating that killing one or two coyotes will help alleviate winter and spring predation is absolutely unfounded by scientific research (for more information, please visit www.projectcoyote.org).

In closing, I would encourage hunters to collaborate with landowners large and small in order to create the necessary habitat for the survival of Maine's deer herds. This will be effort well spent.

But killing coyotes ''for fun'' will accomplish nothing for deer in Maine.

— Special to the Press Herald

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