January 9, 2013

Maine Voices: State's expensive war on coyotes harms, kills other wildlife

Sportsmen's groups and lawmakers work together in Augusta to promote a program that doesn't work.

By Ron Joseph

CAMDEN - On Nov. 7, a trapper phoned the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to report a rare lynx that he'd unintentionally caught in a coyote trap in central Aroostook County.

IFW biologists Jen Vashon and Rich Hope sedated the animal and found two small lacerations and mild swelling on its right front foot. The 31-pound male lynx, a federally protected threatened species, was treated with antibiotics and fluids before being released. Since September, 10 lynx have been caught in foothold traps designed to hold coyotes until they can be killed.

From 1985 to 2012, 38 coyote bills were introduced in the Maine Legislature, including L.D. 902, An Act Relating To Coyote Control. The 1985 law authorized IFW to pay trappers to kill coyotes with wire neck snares. For 17 years, the coyote-snaring program cost the agency an average of $40,000 a year, according to former state Rep. Linda McKee, D-Wayne.

McKee co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill to terminate coyote snaring in 2003. McKee states, "The snaring program cost the state $680,000. That money would have been far better spent purchasing deer yard habitat."

From 1988 to 1990, I supervised IFW's coyote control program in the Moosehead Lake region. After seeing bobcats, foxes and deer killed in snares set for coyotes, it became clear to me that predator control programs are ineffectual and barbaric. That message was reinforced when a skilled coyote trapper entered my Greenville office to report that a state-protected endangered bald eagle had died in one of his snares. Incredulous at the fuss over one dead eagle, the trapper opined, "I've killed 22 coyotes this winter and only one eagle. That's an acceptable ratio."

Since 1985, professional state wildlife biologists have asked: Why spend precious state dollars on an ineffective coyote control program that risks killing or maiming other wildlife? The answer lies in the cozy relationship between Augusta's lawmakers and lobbyists who frequently display their contempt for state biologists.

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine and the Maine Trappers Association represent hunters, fishermen and trappers. For several decades, both special- interest groups cultivated favored status with powerful legislators and politically appointed IFW commissioners. Their pro-coyote control agenda trumps science.

In 1999, IFW's coyote assessment report warned of the futility of an expensive coyote control program: "Large numbers of coyotes can be taken annually from an area without realizing a long-term reduction in their population size (Coyotes can withstand annual reductions of 70 percent). A long-term reduction of coyote numbers is probably not attainable."

Retired biologist Henry Hilton oversaw IFW's coyote control program for 20 years. He states, "The deer herd cannot be increased by killing coyotes. Females double their litter size to compensate for deaths of neighboring coyotes. Despite a 25-year effort to reduce coyotes through snaring and trapping, Maine's coyote population of 13,000 has remained unchanged since 1985."

These facts are inconvenient truths to Augusta's revolving-door politicians and lobbyists.

David Trahan, SAM's executive director, is a former Republican state senator from Waldoboro.

As a legislator, Trahan was a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that advocated L.D. 372, An Act To Reduce Deer Predation. The 2012 law is a deceptively worded $200,000 coyote control program. Trahan now lobbies his former committee colleagues to support predator programs.

State Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, chaired the 125th Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He is also a SAM board member and its treasurer.

Skip Trask, an MTA staffer from 1996 to 2012, lobbied legislators on behalf of coyote trappers. Before joining MTA, Trask worked as IFW's deputy commissioner.

In a January 2003 MTA newsletter, Trask disparaged IFW biologist Wally Jacubas for answering a reporter's questions about the state's coyote snaring program. Coyotes strangled by wire snares, Jacubas explained, suffer slow, agonizing deaths. Trask was furious that Jacubas, a public employee, shared necropsy data with the public.

SAM and MTA represent 1 percent of the state's 1.3 million residents, yet their lobbying disproportionately dictates state wildlife policy for the other 99 percent.

On Jan. 1, L.D. 372, signed by Gov. LePage last May, authorizes an additional $100,000 to kill coyotes in 2013. (L.D 372 authorized $100,000 for coyote control in 2012.) The money comes from the General Fund. LePage recently cut $35 million from state agency budgets.

Maine's costly, unwinnable war on coyotes continues.

Ron Joseph of Camden is a deer hunter and a retired Maine wildlife biologist.

 

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