The more coyotes you kill, the more you have.
That’s the consensus of wildlife biologists and state and federal wildlife officials. Yet a handful of counties, including Franklin, continue to pay bounties on these canid predators in the hopes of protecting livestock.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
From July to the present, the county has paid out $5,985 for 171 bounties, according to Cindy Brooks, animal control officer. And that’s just part of one year.
The county established the bounty in 2007, after the General Assembly passed a 1999 bill that allows localities to institute them. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which has wildlife biologists on staff and oversees scientifically-based wildlife management for the state, officially opposed the 1999 bill. But it passed anyway.
Counties aren’t required to inform DGIF when they establish a bounty, but state furbearer biologist Mike Fies tries to track them. As of November, Fies said he had counted18 localities with bounties on the books, but only 11 were funded.
DGIF opposed the bill for one main reason: Bounties don’t work.
States in the Midwestern and Southwestern U.S., where coyotes are native, have tried since Colonial times to exterminate them, or at least reduce their numbers. But a quirk in the animal’s biology protects it from predator pressure.
The more coyotes killed in an area, the more litters mothers birth, and the more pups in each litter, according to Virginia Tech researchers. Coyote mothers keep their young with them longer, too, increasing their rate of survival. But without predator pressure, coyotes birth fewer litters with fewer pups and drive the young away sooner, reducing overall populations.
For more than a century in the West, people tried widespread poisoning and other now illegal methods, but that did nothing to curb them. In fact, they have gone from inhabiting six U.S. states to 49. They came to Virginia in the 1970s and 80s, filling the niche left after white settlers drove our wolves to extinction.
Conservatively, Fies estimates today there about 50,000 coyotes in Virginia.
“It’s always been our contention that you can control coyotes at the farm level by trapping and shooting to protect livestock,” Fies said. “But to do it at the landscape level is virtually impossible.”
Still, some hunters, farmers and officials don’t believe it.
“The logic to most people is that everyone you kill potentially reduces problems, but it’s more complicated than that,” Fies said.
Franklin County’s bounty was established before Cline Brubaker, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, was elected. He said that over his six years in office, he does not recall the board soliciting the opinion of a wildlife biologist about the bounty’s effectiveness.
But, as a dairy farmer, he does know the risks livestock producers face.
“There is a coyote problem in the county,” Brubaker said. And the board has been willing to allocate money to try to reduce the population.
While most coyote cause no problems, some do. A producer who loses a lamb crop overnight suffers significant harm, Fies said. To combat that, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services has a livestock protection program to manage and prevent coyote damage.
Fies said some livestock producers have asked their localities establish funds to cover livestock losses, instead of paying hunters for dead coyotes. After all, it’s always open season on coyotes in Virginia. They can be harvested at any time with no a bag limit.
Fraud and abuse are also known problems with bounty programs, according to Fies. People pick up a coyote killed on the road and turn it in, or turn in animals they would have killed anyway while hunting or trapping – and get a little taxpayer money for their trouble.
Brooks, the Franklin County animal control officer, said there have been no known cases of fraud so far, and the county clips the tongues of carcasses brought to it. That way the carcass can’t be claimed twice or taken to another locality with a bounty.
Still, the bounty program is questionable at best. While $6,000 or $7,000 a year won’t break the county budget, there undoubtedly are better uses for the money.