Coyote population rising; threat to livestock debated
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Scott Barao said he’s seen them over the last several years at Hedgeapple Farm, which he runs in Frederick County — coyotes that prowl the property, presumably feasting on small game.
But there seem to be more of them lately than in years past, he said, and he keeps hearing from other farmers who have killed them on their own properties, worried that they might attack young calves or lambs.
“They’re getting bolder,” Barao said. “I think it’s something we should be discussing.”
But are there more coyotes in Maryland?
As it turns out, there are, state officials said. Though the Maryland Department of Natural Resources doesn’t track coyote populations like it does for deer and other species, it uses less accurate metrics, such as surveying hunters and totaling call-in complaints, to monitor the resilient, wild canines.
“They are present in all 23 counties, have been for a quite a number of years now, and the population does seem to be increasing,” said Harry Spiker, the department’s game mammal section leader.
Barao, who is also the livestock representative on the Maryland Agricultural Commission, raised the issue at a commission meeting earlier this month when he said farmers had seen an “explosion” of coyotes in central Maryland. He said the state agriculture department at some point may need to create a program that would compensate beef producers and other farmers for animals lost to coyotes.
A quick Internet search reveals an endless number of recent news stories from across the country about coyotes attacking goats, chickens and other farm animals in addition to joggers and children. But the department of natural resources, which fields thousands of calls each year about animal concerns, usually receives about five a year regarding coyotes, Spiker said. Most residents call the department about geese or deer.
“The population’s on the rise, but they’re greatly over-demonized, I think,” he said. “The bulk of what they take is small (animals).”
Matt Morris, an Extension agent in Frederick County, also said he’s yet to receive a call about coyotes on a farm.
Coyotes were initially limited to prairies west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains where they hunted without the threat of larger predators such as mountain lions and wolves. As humans populated the East Coast, pushing out those predators, it created an opening for coyotes to move in, and they did. Humans cleared forests for farms and development, creating more open space, similar to what coyotes were used to in the Midwest. They spread north and south throughout the early 1900s, moving into Maryland and Delaware last.
They were first reported in Maryland in Cecil, Frederick and Washington counties in 1972, according to the department of natural resources.
For years, rumors persisted that insurance companies stocked them across Maryland hoping to thin deer herds and reduce auto collisions — a clever but fictional story, Spiker said.
“People get caught up in the lore of it, and the stories, and not actually the facts of how they survive,” he said.
John Brooks, a Kingsville veterinarian on the commission, said he agreed with Barao even though he hasn’t yet encountered a large animal, such as a cow or horse, attacked by a coyote. Lamb and goats would most likely be more vulnerable as they’re frequently birthed in less controlled environments.
“The statement that they’re not a real problem is in my mind somewhat short-sighted,” he said. “Once they get a handle here, and there’s an overpopulation of them, there’s going to be a screaming outcry from people to do something.”
If farmers begin to lose animals to coyotes in significant numbers, a program to indemnify them would be worth considering, said Steve Connelly, an assistant secretary with the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The department is also organizing a meeting for central Maryland farmers that would include the USDA to address the issue, he said.
“If we’re having a problem, we have to try to find a way either to assist the producers to control the population or if there’s a need for some other type of assistance program for helping them with their losses, whether there’s a crop insurance-type program or something, we should at least look into it,” he said.
The state permits the hunting of coyotes year-round during daylight, Spiker said. They can also be hunted at night from Oct. 15 to March 15.
Coyotes are omnivores and have been known to kill deer, usually fawns before they’re too large and fast to be caught. But farmers hoping that coyotes might tame the state’s deer population and reduce deer damage to crops may need to keep wishing. Regional deer are well-adapted to predators and are unlikely to be greatly affected, Spiker said.
Barao said he hasn’t yet lost a calf to a hungry coyote but has started keeping calving animals closer to the barn as a precaution.
No matter what, he said, coyotes aren’t likely to go away.
“We urbanized these areas that were previously more rural, and this is what you get, right?” he said. “You can’t displace the animals. You have to cohabitate.”
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