My Turn: Killing coyotes doesn’t help farmers

  • Danielle Eriksen raises sheep on her Weare farm. Danielle Eriksen / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 2/10/2019 12:10:07 AM

As a livestock producer, the safety, health and welfare of my animals is a constant concern. As an engineer working on advanced technology applications, science plays a role in all of my thought processes.

For these reasons, I support House Bill 442, which would close coyote hunting from April 1 through Aug. 31, the time of coyote pup rearing.

Coyotes are typically consistent predators. The general wisdom among farmers is, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” That is, if you have a coyote pack near your farm and they’re leaving your livestock alone, then the best thing to do is to leave them alone. If you kill the pack or some members, others will move in to the territory, and they may not be so benign.

I am acutely aware of what’s on my land. Game cameras are relatively cheap these days, and I have them deployed in multiple locations. I also take frequent walks with my dogs, and note tracks and scat of the wildlife that comes and goes. I do have a local pack of coyotes, and so far they’ve left my livestock alone.

Good shepherds don’t leave predation to chance. A combination of strategies helps keep a flock safe: good fencing, livestock guardian animals (such as dogs or a donkey), and potentially moving flocks to safer spots at night and for lambing. In the event of a predator attacking livestock, New Hampshire law allows farmers to shoot them. That law would not change if HB 442 was enacted.

In a stable coyote pack, only the alpha pair mates. They are monogamous and mate for life. After the pups are weaned, the adults bring them food, teaching them their natural prey. If a pack member is killed, it puts more pressure on the whole pack to find food. The added pressure will make them change their hunting habits and take more risks. Livestock they previously avoided will now become fair game.

The irony is, whelping season for coyotes coincides with lambing season. My flock of sheep, with tiny little lambs, is most vulnerable at the same time that the coyote pups are most vulnerable. If you put added pressure on my local pack of coyotes, who had previously left my flock alone, then suddenly my lambs become much more enticing prey.

Even the staff biologists at Fish and Game recommend closing the coyote season for a period during whelping. A quote from their website is consistent with my statement above: “The great majority of coyotes don’t prey upon livestock. However, once a coyote learns that young livestock are easy prey, depredation can become a problem. If this occurs, removal of the offending coyote is often recommended. However, when farms are situated in a coyote territory with no depredation, the resident coyote may actually be an asset to the farm by removing rodents and preventing problem coyotes from moving into the area.”

Again – HB 442 will not prevent me, or any other farmer, from shooting an offending coyote that worries our livestock.

I’m not against hunting; in fact, I have venison in my freezer that was given to me by a friend. I raise animals for food. Nevertheless, some extremists will label me as an “anti” because I favor a brief closure of the season. Ludicrous. The truth is, most hunters I know also favor appropriate habitat and species management, and they have respect for the animals they hunt for food, just as I respect the animals I raise for food.

Coyotes are not hunted for food or for their pelts (which are worth only about $20).

Some hunters believe they are doing farmers a favor every time they kill a coyote. The science and experience of farmers like me show that is not true. Farmers like me prefer a stable coyote pack.

Under the New Hampshire Constitution (N.H. Constitution, Part 2, Article 2), our Legislature has the supreme legislative power and responsibility for lawmaking. HB 442 is a pragmatic, science-based reprieve for an incredibly important species in the New Hampshire ecosystem.

Please contact your legislators in support of this bill.

Support your local farmer.

Support HB 442.

(Danielle Eriksen lives on Maplewold Farm in Weare.)

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