I have previously introduced a large charismatic canid increasingly evident in the Adirondack Park that some wildlife observers are calling the CoyWolf. This hybrid of the Coyote, the Eastern Wolf, and the domestic dog unfortunately is threatened despite its important evolutionary and trophic dynamics.
Against all ecological and ethical wisdom, most states in our country currently have open killing seasons on Coyotes. The Coyotes and CoyWolves we’re seeing in the Adirondacks and Vermont are being heavily persecuted, which may not much depress their numbers (Coyotes practice compensatory reproduction) but upsets their social dynamics, and causes untold individual suffering.
Killing these apex predators is wrong for several reasons:
1. It doesn’t work. If people are concerned about Coyotes or CoyWolves killing livestock or house pets, it is better to let the big dogs attain stable, self-regulating populations. Conflicts with domestic animals are most common in predator populations that are being persecuted, such that the young do not have mature role models to teach them to hunt and keep clear of people.
2. Apex predators, particularly top carnivores, are essential members of healthy ecosystems. They help hold herbivores in check and prevent them from over-browsing plant communities. Not yet so much here in the Adirondacks where we still sometimes have cold snowy winters, but in many parts of the East, our deciduous forests are being browsed to the ground — to the detriment of songbird and wildflower populations as well as the trees themselves — by unnaturally high populations of White-tail Deer. We all love deer, and they too are important parts of forest ecosystems, but they have grown too abundant and lazy in the absence of their predators, especially Cougar and Wolf.
Coyotes do not fill the whole niche left by our past eradication of Cougars and Wolves, but they are beginning to fill some of that void. (As I’ve written elsewhere, we should recognize Cougar and Wolf recovery as top priorities for our region, too; and by the way, if Wolves returned, they’d hold in check Coyote numbers.)
Hunting by humans does not mimic hunting by native carnivores, for human hunters usually target the big strong “trophy” animals, whereas natural predators select out the weak. Plus, the mere presence of top predators keeps herbivores more alert and healthy and less prone to congregating in and over-browsing sensitive habitats.
3. So long as there’s open killing season on Coyotes, the real top dog, the Wolf, has very little chance of successfully recolonizing our region from their remnant populations northward in Ontario and Quebec. All too often in areas Wolves are trying to recolonize, they get shot by hunters claiming they thought they were shooting a Coyote.
This has happened several times in the last few years in the West, most infamously in late 2014 when a gunner shot a female Wolf in southern Utah, then got off without penalty (despite the Gray Wolf being listed under the Endangered Species Act) when he told wildlife officials he’d thought he was shooting a Coyote. This Wolf had traveled all the way from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon and had been named Echo by some of the school kids who were rooting for her. (I was lucky enough to see her, fleetingly, after fortuitously following part of her dispersal route southward.) Probably still looking for a mate, Echo drifted back north a little way into Utah, where she was shot for resembling a Coyote.
Right now, if a Wolf were to brave the major roads crossing southern Ontario just north of the St Lawrence River (and perhaps cross the frozen river in a cold winter) and make it southeast into our beloved Adirondack Park, all too likely she’d soon be shot for looking like a Coyote.
4. Contrary to popular assumptions (based on outmoded but deep-seeded fears), native carnivores actually make our lives safer. Attacks by native carnivores on people are so rare as to be statistically irrelevant. Deer — excessively numerous because of loss of predators — kill nearly two hundred Americans a year (mostly from car/deer collisions); domestic dogs kill about twenty; all native carnivores in the US combined, maybe two in a bad year.
On the other hand, full complements of native carnivores help hold in check the vectors of zoonotic diseases. The prime example of this now is small rodents and deer spreading Lyme disease in fragmented ecosystems deficient in native carnivores. Lyme disease is a real threat to human health, exacerbated by our intolerance of wild predators.
5. Perhaps most important, native carnivores bring beauty and wholeness to our wild neighborhoods in ways aesthetic, ecological, recreational, ethical, and even spiritual. We will be a richer and happier people when we learn to coexist with all our native neighbors, Coyotes, Wolves, CoyWolves, and Cougars included.
To get a taste of the joys of having these big toothy animals around, go out and follow their tracks in the snow someday this winter. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll see tracks of Cougar or full-bred Wolf (if you do, please contact me!). But if you walk the protected lands and frozen waters along the Split Rock Wildway you will see plenty of tracks from Coyotes and/or CoyWolves, and likely also from Red or Gray Fox, Bobcat, Fisher, Mink, or River Otter.
Back-track a coursing Coyote, and he or she (or both, for they often travel as couples in winter) will teach you much about what they hunt (often rodents and rabbits, occasionally weak or old deer), what attracts their attention, where they scent-mark their territory, and much more. You will begin to learn the ways of one of our cleverest and handsomest neighbors.
[Special thanks to Lake Placid based nature conservation photographer Larry Master (www.masterimages.org) for permission to feature several of his photographs in this post.]
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.
- Return Wolves to Increase Public Safety (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Misplaced Fear of Cougars (and Other Predators) (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Will Cougars Return to the Adirondacks? (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- We Should Welcome Cougars Back (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Restore the Adirondack Wolf (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)