Coyotes are eminently adaptable survivors – another viewpoint

Coyote: photo provided by Steven Childs

Opinion

I just wanted to respond to the opinion piece written by Don Molde. 

Don Molde writes from an animal advocacy perspective. While I respect and appreciate his passion for wildlife issues, some of his misleading claims regarding coyotes should be addressed. 

While it is true that trappers, sportsmen, and the USDA remove coyotes from the landscape, we should understand that coyotes are very adaptable. This adaptability is the key to the coyote’s success. Coyotes are a generalist species, meaning they can thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources. Their expansion across North America in a relatively short period of time is a testament to this resilient adaptable nature. 

The scientific literature does not support the claim that pack disruption leads to increased mating opportunities for coyotes. The coyotes’ life strategies are the key to their success, not exploitation. Coyotes are omnivorous and switch between the roles of both transient and resident animals. That is, they often switch from being part of a family group to being a loner and back again. In a 2018 study, out of 147 coyotes observed, 60 coyotes were residents, 48 were transients, and 39 coyotes exhibited both residency and transiency. With or without exploitation, the role of the individual coyote is flexible. 

Yes, the age structure of coyotes shifts to younger, and when under heavy exploitation, coyotes litters often favor males but there is no evidence pack disruption is an actual thing. In a study by Project Coyote Science Advisor Robert Crabtree, when coyotes that were part of a breeding pair were killed, another animal in the family group took the place of the removed member. Pack disruption and increased mating were not observed.  

Another problem with Molde’s unproven theories: coyote males and females are only capable of breeding during the short mating period January through March. Outside of the mating period, coyote males do not produce sperm, and coyote females do not go into heat. Coyote females are monoestrus meaning they only go into heat once a year during the January through March mating period. Coyotes are not capable of producing offspring outside of that time period. Overwhelmingly, the evidence suggests coyote litter sizes are correlated with rabbit abundance, not exploitation. 

Recent findings by Dr. Stewart Breck suggest a lack of exploitation in urban and suburban areas might have more to do with shaping coyote behavior, leading to more instances of human-wildlife conflict. It seems allowing bold behavior to go unchallenged has a much greater impact on shaping negative coyote behavior than removing coyotes from the landscape. By rewarding coyotes for living in close proximity to humans, we are artificially selecting coyotes for bold behavior, not behavior that is mutually beneficial to humans or coyotes. Research also shows coyotes living in highly urbanized landscapes suffer from reduced genetic diversity. Advocating for decreased exploitation of coyotes, according to the evidence, might do more to increase human-wildlife conflict, not reduce it. 

Until wolves fully colonize their former historic range, having a few humans act as a top predator is likely more beneficial for a healthy, resilient, and risk-aversive coyote population than not. 

For the sake of creating meaningful dialogue, isn’t it time we used facts in their full context instead of using cherry-picked information to shape public perception regarding wildlife management? Just a thought. 


Steven Childs is a military veteran that enjoys hunting and fishing. I became interested in wildlife management after seeing animal advocates misrepresent animal behavior and biology to manipulate public perception. 


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