The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Damage Control, Coyotes are Montana's No. 1 Predator


February 1, 2023

Coyotes have long been a problem that Livestock producers have had to contend with for years. The process of containing the animal has been met with obstacles for decades and in recent years has increased tenfold. Populations are soaring and the damage to livestock and even family pets have increased exponentially. Often the conversation turns to, "What is Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) going to do about it?" A local family recently lost their dog to a Coyote attack prompting myself to do a little investigating.

I contacted Scott Thompson with MFWP, and he informed me that in Montana a Coyote is considered a predator and therefore they are not counted, not managed and are not regulated by the MFWP. As a predator the Coyote can be hunted and trapped every day of the year, there is no regulation on limits or method of harvest so long as basic laws are followed. I was informed that if an individual has a coyote situation that needs to be dealt with to contact Montana Wildlife Services and they will assist in managing the problem.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services website states, "Every day, the Wildlife Services (WS) program in Montana helps citizens, organizations, industries, and Government agencies resolve conflicts with wildlife to protect agriculture, other property, and natural resources, and to safeguard human health and safety. WS' professional wildlife biologists and specialists implement effective, selective, and responsible strategies that value wildlife, the environment, and the resources being protected. WS manages wildlife damage according to its public trust stewardship responsibilities as a Federal natural resource management program." Furthermore, it adds, "With one million inhabitants, Montana is one of the least populated States but the fourth largest in size and second in agricultural lands, with almost 60 million acres of ranch and farmland. Agriculture, particularly cattle and sheep production, is vital to the State's economy. WS-Montana focuses its efforts on managing the junction between livestock and wildlife."

In their CY2020 report Montana Wildlife Services conducted Predator Damage Management (PDM) activities on 956 properties covering 10,327,629 acres, 76% of which took place on private land, 15.1% on Tribal land with the remaining occurring on BLM, State, Forrest Service or County/City land. 1,262 request were responded to and involved 10 types of predators. Coyotes represented 51.58% of all requests followed by Gray Wolves (33.84%), Mountain Lions (5.07%), Black Bears (3.01%), Common Ravens (2.14%), Red Foxes (1.82%), Raccoons (1.11%), Bobcats (0.55%) and Striped Skunks (0.55%). Of these requests 92% came from Ag operations. In all, 8,471 predators were taken with Helicopter aerial gunning representing 55.5% of animals taken. Nearly twice as many request was made for non-lethal methods of action involving 2,463 participants. Nationally nearly 700,000 livestock are lost each year to predators in recent census.

Locally Coyote hunts have been held, Helicopter hunts have been taken and individual hunts have harvested thousands of Coyotes, yet the population seems to thrive. According to the 2015 Census 40.5% of all cattle deaths and 53.1% of all calf deaths due to predators were caused by coyotes. A study found on the Progressive Cattle website stated, "Coyotes have this mechanism, this population regulation mechanism called compensatory natality," says Drew Ricketts, assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist at Kansas State University. "Basically, what that means is: They're able to adjust the birth rate to compensate for fluctuations in their population."

Ricketts stated "The average size of a coyote litter is three to four pups. After big population control efforts, such as the use of fixed-wing aircraft, trapping or shooting, the compensatory natality mechanism causes the average litter size to double. Additionally, in most breeding seasons, the female pups born the spring before will typically not breed. Competition for territories is low after attempts to scale down the population, meaning female yearlings will have more resources, a mate and territory – and therefore, increasing the likelihood of them breeding early."

The 2023 Montana Legislature has been addressing the predator concern. According to Ranchers want to be able to hire out-of-state aerial hunters statewide to protect their livestock, and the state would like to be sure drones can't be used to spot or hunt game in Montana, according to two bills that saw their first committee hearings Thursday, Jan. 12. "While other predators get a lot of the headlines, predation by coyotes is still the No. 1 depredation issue for landowners across the state," said Department of Livestock executive director Mike Honeycutt in one of the hearings.

Senate Bill 84 was requested by the Department of Fish, Parks and Wildlife and is sponsored by Sen. Bob Brown, R-Trout Creek. SB84 reads: a bill for an act entitled: "an act revising laws for aircraft use in relation to wildlife and national forest lands; defining an "aircraft" to include unmanned aerial vehicles and other airborne devices for the purposes of hunting, hazing, harassing, and otherwise interacting with wildlife; removing the obligation for the department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to permit aircraft activity on national forest land; amending sections 87-6-101, 87-6-107, and 87-6-208, mca; and providing an immediate effective date."

House Bill 104 was requested by the Department of Fish, Parks and Wildlife and was introduced by B. Beard, B. and reads: "A bill for an act entitled: "an act revising laws regarding aerial hunting of predatory animals; removing the residency requirement for aerial hunting.


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