Monday, January 31, 2011

172. Wildlife Hysteria: Nova Scotia's War on Coyotes

Taylor Mitchell
By Billy MacDonald, Redtail Nature Awareness and David Orton, Green Web, January 31, 2011 

In Nova Scotia, coyotes are designated “other harvestable wildlife” and can be shot or otherwise killed year-round with no “bag limit”. There is also an NDP government-initiated subsidized trapping program, through a “pelt-incentive” of twenty dollars per dead coyote, for licenced trappers. We are informed that coyotes seen near communities, for example schools, “are to be captured and killed.” A Department of Natural Resources press release of Jan. 21, 2011, states that “More than 800 coyote pelts have been shipped to market this season, a 51 per cent increase over the same period last season.” Government media releases have spoken of aiming to kill 4,000 coyote! 

We are two people living at different, relatively isolated, rural locations in Pictou County, in Nova Scotia. Each of us has lived with coyotes – really wild dogs –in our immediate neighbourhoods, for over twenty-five years. We oppose the coyote fear-mongering and hatred in Nova Scotia, which encourages a dread of being in the woods where coyotes could roam. One of us has had hundreds of youth sleeping in woods at summer camps, with coyotes in the vicinity and with no incidents, for the past twenty years. 

Wildlife is “wild” and humans need to adapt to this. A measure of a supposedly civilized society should be human tolerance and co-existence with all other species, and concern for their well-being, not just for humans and their domesticated pets. We need a deeper ecological awareness. To elevate the trapper in Nova Scotia as the final authority on coyotes, as do government press releases and many media stories, is to disregard self-interest. It is equivalent to asking someone employed by the forest industry for an enlightened opinion on industrial forestry practices. 

We see coyotes, along with all the other wild animals, as an extension of ourselves. We are often thrilled to hear coyote territorial family calls where we live, usually in the evenings or early mornings. We are thankful that the Eastern Coyote, which moved into our province in a territorial expansion in the early 1970s, and is now to be found throughout Atlantic Canada, has replaced the long ago extirpated wolf as an important ecosystem predator. The first documented coyote to be trapped in Nova Scotia, was in 1977. Coyotes are an evolving and extremely adaptable species. ‘Our’ coyotes have a larger body size than the Western. This is a result of interbreeding with wolves, on the coyote’s migratory journey East.

Since the unfortunate death of a young woman, Taylor Mitchell, on a hiking trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, in October of 2009 – a first coyote-related human death for Nova Scotia – coyote hysteria has been on a roll. Taylor’s friends described her as a person who loved nature and wildlife. Her own mother spoke out publicly against any killing of coyotes because of her daughter’s death. Yet Taylor’s death has been used to help justify a slaughter of coyotes. The media have been full of stories of aggressive coyote behaviour. However aggressive “domestic” dog behaviour towards cyclists and walkers, which many of us are familiar with, seems to escape a sympathetic press. For example, in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, the scene of the latest media coyote scare, a person would have a much greater chance of a dog bite than the thrill of seeing a probable passing-through coyote.  

We oppose this fear-mongering, provincial government-directed and media-stoked, towards our interactions with coyotes in Nova Scotia. It is creating a ripple effect which is negatively changing how we relate to Nature. There are “problem” people and “problem” coyotes, but we don’t go to war on a species. Do we eliminate all the dogs in a neighbourhood if the mailman gets bitten? 

Both of us feel that it is crucial for humans to come into a new, non-dominant, and compassionate relationship with the natural world. There is a need for a fundamental shift in societal and individual consciousness, and a new equilibrium, with all the species who share this Earth with us, to have any kind of long term ecological and social future. 

1 comment:

Al Muir said...

Re: Article "Wildlife hysteria: Nova Scotia's war on coyotes.

The authors of this article, Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Orton, attempt to
justify deficiencies in controlling predator animals by pointing out
deficiencies in the control of domestic animals.

They correctly suggest that a person would have a greater chance of a dog
bite then coming across a coyote in Pleasant Park in Halifax. However, if
dogs were required to have a muzzle on them while in the park that would no
longer be the case. They ask the question if we eliminate all the dogs in a
neighbourhood if the mailman gets bitten. The obvious answer is no, but that
does not mean that the dog would not be put down and every effort be made to
prevent the future occurrences of such an event.

The authors ask us to accept the fact that coyotes are "wild " and humans
need to adapt to this, but this is exactly what is being done. The fact that
coyotes are in their words "an evolving and extremely adaptable species"
should lead any reasonable person to conclude that we humans need to control
that evolution and adaption to the point that we eliminate, as much as
possible, any aggressive responses they may have to humans.

That control cannot be achieved with the authors' totally unrealistic
notion that we adopt a "non-dominant" relationship with coyotes. Primarily
scavengers, coyotes are none the less predators. To suggest we not attempt
to bring them under control is not only naive, it is potentially dangerous.
Of all the predators on the planet humans are the most dangerous and
efficient. To suggest we be anything otherwise is not only unnatural, it
imperils us.

The primary question we must ask in this case is what the purpose of a
bounty on coyotes is. The provincial NDP government has been under pressure
to rectify the problem and allay concerns about public safety. Best
evidence, accepted by both sides of the argument, has it that coyotes are
extremely capable of reproducing at a rate that would easily replenish any
losses that occur from human predation. Given that, the government has
inadequately defended their policy. Preservationist arguments like the one
given by Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Orton flourish in such a vacuum.

Both sides have missed the elephant in the room. The most important concern
for any prey species is survival. The primary agent required for that
survival is fear. It is common knowledge that coyotes rarely attack humans,
what is less commonly considered is why that is the case. Fear, while not
necessarily the only cause is the most significant factor. Black bears have
been hunted for centuries in Nova Scotia. They resultantly have a healthy
fear of humans. The same can be said of any predator- prey relationship even
if the prey is a predator, as is the case with coyotes.

In so much as a bounty helps to increase that fear, it is useful. However,
that bounty has resulted in far fewer coyotes meeting their end that those
that fall during regular licensed hunting seasons where a hunter brings home
a coyote while not setting out to do so. There are cheaper and more
effective ways of instilling fear in coyotes then a trapper bounty. Predator
calling is practiced in a wide number of jurisdictions. The DNR has a ready
source of road kill that can be utilized in such instances, if they wish to
promote the practice.

Given the coyotes resilience there is a widely acknowledged acceptance that
the species will continue to inhabit the province in large numbers
regardless of what humans throw at them. That in itself is not the problem.
How they interact with humans while they are here is. Regardless of the
situation, the imperative is that humans come out on top in every instance.
Given the model laid out by the authors that outcome would be placed in
serious doubt.

Al Muir
Plymouth, Nova Scotia