This we know about coyotes: In the wild they keep their numbers in balance with what the land can sustain.
« They’re a remarkable animal,’’ says John McKenzie, senior wildlife technician with the Ministry of Natural Resources. « They seem to instinctively know the carrying capacity of the land, and they have their own system of birth control.’’ They will not have a litter if the coyote population in their area is getting too large, he says.
This also we know: Coyotes, given the opportunity, will prey on livestock, particularly newly born lambs. So pressure is building to allow snaring of coyotes in southern Ontario. (It already is allowed north of a line that roughly follows the trans-Canada highway that runs from Ottawa, through Peterborough and Lindsay, to Waubaushene.)
So we have a classic situation of conflict, and a classic response — which is to kill wildlife when it interferes with what we do.
So far, the Ontario Government has resisted pressure to extend snaring into more heavily populated areas, because of a concern that pets would be killed. A snare is a loop of fine wire, set about 25 centimetres above the ground. When it is tripped, the wire tightens about an animal’s throat, strangling it.
Tory backbenchers from rural areas are annoyed that the ban has been continued. They had expected a regulation to allow snaring when the new Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act was proclaimed on Jan. 1.
As a result of their grumbling, the issue has been sent back to bureaucrats in the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) for further study. Their findings are expected to go to a committee of the Tory caucus, called the MNR Advisory Caucus Committee, in April or May. The committee meets behind closed doors.
The debate about coyotes has been a debate about « managing’’ wildlife for the benefit of people. The questions being asked are people-centred: Are coyotes a nuisance to farmers? Will people’s pets be killed?
I don’t see anyone in government asking: « Are coyotes important to ecosystems?’’ Or, « If it’s okay to snare coyotes as nuisances to people, what does that bode for the future, as more people move to the countryside?’’
McKenzie supports trapping, but only in very specialized cases, and then only by a professional trapper. In fact, he’s a great admirer of coyotes. « They’re probably the most successful wild animal on the continent,’’ he says.
They originated in the U.S. Southwest and, as wolves were driven out, they moved in. They grow to 32 kilograms in parts of eastern Ontario. « They’re beautiful, and they’re very smart.’’ he says. « Outside of a timber wolf, they’re the most difficult animal to trap.’’ And he tells stories of how coyotes will uncover a leg-hold trap and drag it out of the way by its chain, « just to let you know they weren’t fooled.’’
There’s a need for them in the wild, he says, as there is for any predator. In southern Ontario, predators are diminishing. The populations of mink, foxes, and wolves are down. And the number of prey animals, deer and wild turkeys for instance, are on the rise.
McKenzie is torn between his admiration for coyotes and the need to protect farmers. It’s a choice between a rock and a hard place, with no overwhelmingly right answer. He has sided, in a very limited way, with people and snaring.
I lean the other way, against snaring, especially because there is a program in Ontario to compensate farmers for livestock killed by coyotes. Local municipal councils pay farmers market value for livestock killed, and then are reimbursed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
That seems to me to be a reasonable compromise. Other business people face loses. Storekeepers know that if they’re setting up shop, they’ll have to arrange their wares in ways to discourage shoplifters. Nobody compensates them if they fail. Farmers are in a much better position.