The oxymoronic management of a species
By Jim Anderson
I first became interested in coyotes shortly after I rolled into Bend on my good old '51 OHV Harley in September of '74. A couple of years later, I met and enjoyed a wonderful association with Henry Tonseth, ranger of the U.S. Forest Service Fort Rock District. We became good pals when I started doing research on coyotes, after I read a piece in the Bulletin with the headline, "Brothers School Closed Because of Rabid Coyote," or something to that affect.
However, when I began asking about the alleged rabid coyote, Dr. Ward, a wonderful veterinarian in Bend, told me it hadn't died of rabies, but of 1080 poisoning. When I asked questions about 1080, that started me down the trail of so-called predator control. Henry helped me to find the location of every poison station on the Fort Rock District.
The questions about 1080 led me to the people who were using it; U.S. government "trappers" working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Predator and Rodent Control program (PARC). The more I studied, the more I found the title to be an oxymoron: Coyotes eat rodents, and the more one kills coyotes the more one has to suffer with rodents, duuuuhhh.
Turned out 1080 is the catalog name for sodium fluoroacetate, an organofluorine chemical compound developed in WWII as a weapon of mass destruction. Last I heard there is no antidote for the stuff. After the war, government trappers thought it would work wonders in predator control. It did, but it also killed anything else that ate the poisoned horse meat: including eagles.
When I discovered that was going on, I wrote a letter to the director of the USFWS in an attempt to stop the use of the stuff. The answer to my letter (which I still have in my files) said in part, "Thank you Mr. Anderson for reporting dead eagles from 1080 poisoning; they are shot as a nuisance in Alaska."
The U.S. Department of the Interior's registration of 1080 as a field rodenticide was withdrawn following a 1972 Executive Order, President Nixon's work. But it's tough to change old habits — or get in the way of commerce — since 2001 the use of 1080 in the USA has been reported to be in use again in livestock protection collars used to protect sheep and goats from coyotes in eight western states. At least they're going after the coyote doing the damage—something they should have done almost 200 years ago.
The main reason coyotes have populated the entire U.S. of A. is because of the indiscriminate methods the government trappers used when they went after them, with no thought to how the coyote was going to react to such pressure.
The wolf was easy to exterminate, they're family animals that run in social groups. All the trappers had to do was spread poison in their home range, shoot the stragglers, then dig the pups out of the dens and the job was done; no more wolves.
When the sheep people moved their beautiful, delicious, cloven-hoofed locusts into the forests and sagebrush country of the West to eat everything in sight, the coyotes probably thought they'd died and gone to heaven. They may have also thought that humans were the most benevolent creatures on earth, sending that tasty food supply out for them to gobble up, absolutely free.
Obviously, the wool growers about flipped their lids when they saw their hard-earned money going down the gullet of coyotes, and screamed their heads off: "Get rid of those coyotes!"
As we can see today, the U.S. government is always quick to oblige at providing taxpayer money handouts, and the agricultural business was (and still is) no exception. So, many of those same trappers who eliminated the wolf set out to do the same to the coyote, but failed to realize wolves and coyotes are apples and oranges.
Coyotes, who were also once family animals with well defined social territories, saw their numbers decimated as their sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters were trapped, poisoned, and shot all around them, and responded by becoming polygamous wanderers instead.
One male took up with three (or so) females and instead of having two or three pups in a well-defined territory, they began wandering and generating lots of puppies that grew up to become wily coyotes and spread all over the U.S.A. That's why today they're in Chicago, LA, Pittsburgh, Boston, Seattle, the suburbs of Portland, and in the Northeast U.S., where they're mixing with wolves and domestic dogs, creating a whole new species of very clever predator.
Instead of doing what Missouri did—kill the coyote causing the problem—the U.S. government started a war on the species. So, the next time you see a coyote run off with your neighbor's barn cat, little yapper dog, or your prize laying hen, you can thank the PARC trappers, then call USDA's "Wildlife Services."