by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, in terms of sanity, science and common sense, as they related to the politically driven business of wildlife management, especially regarding coyotes.
I speak of April, 2010, when the adjoining provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia each announced its respective plans for the “management” of that ever-so-controversial species, the coyote.
The province of Nova Scotia’s Natural Resources Minister John MacDonell had ignored all scientific advice and past histories of other jurisdictions, and announced a $20.00 bounty for each coyote pelt turned in by trappers or hunters. Mind you, MacDonell wanted to emphasize that the “pelt incentive plan” was not a “traditional bounty”. The whole idea, you see, was to change coyote behaviour. The idea seemed to be that coyotes would realize that people wanted to kill them, and avoid humans.
It’s a politically sensitive issue in Nova Scotia since last fall, when a young Ontario folk singer, 19 year old Taylor Mitchell, was attacked and killed by coyotes as she hiked alone on the Skyline Trail near Cheticamp, Nova Scotia. It was a huge tragedy and words can’t express the depth of my sorrow at the loss of this talented young woman, who was definitely headed toward a stellar career. Taylor loved nature, and would have been appalled to think that her untimely and tragic passing had triggered this plan for bounties, according to her mother, Emily Mitchell. Mrs. Mitchell quite correctly pointed out that the plan targets all coyotes, indiscriminately. “You’re killing innocent coyotes, as well. I mean, the ones who are aggressive need to be dealt with – I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.” She went on to say that she couldn’t see how shooting any coyote would solve the problem.
I agree. So far as I can tell the number of people killed in North America by coyotes is around two, too small to have statistical significance, but horribly tragic for the victims. Add in death by wolves, bears, pumas and other wildlife on our continent, even venomous snakes, and the numbers are still minute compared to so many other causes of untimely death we could prevent but seem unwilling to do so. For example, think how many lives were saved some years ago (not to mention how good it was for the environment) when speed limits were reduced to a maximum of 50 mph in order to conserve fuel. Think of the many thousands of lives that could be saved just by eliminating trans fats from foods.
What to do? By all means avoid feeding coyotes, or encouraging their natural curiosity about people. Don’t run if you see one, and, as Emily Mitchell herself pointed out, wildlife managers should be finding out why some coyotes are becoming less fearful of humans.
Move, now, to the next door province of New Brunswick. There Jean-Mechel Devink, representing the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources, stated “New Brunswick typically feels that a bounty wouldn’t be effective and we don’t believe it’s necessary at this point in our province.” Showing a basic understanding of ecology lacking in his Nova Scotian counterparts, Devink discussed compensatory mortality: the fact that when numbers of coyotes are reduced, it means enhanced fecundity and survival for the next generation. He was too diplomatic to comment on the Nova Scotian bounties...um....or “pelt incentive plan”, but he, like Mrs. Mitchell, displayed a degree of knowledge and logic far above what John MacDonell has shown, sad to say for the Nova Scotia coyotes.