Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Feds take aim at Blaine County coyotes

Wildlife Services responds to ranchers’ requests

Express Staff Writer

A coyote walks along Warm Springs Creek west of Ketchum. Photo by Roland Lane

    From the beginning of 2014 through September, Idaho Wildlife Services killed 96 coyotes in Blaine County. In 2013, according to figures provided by the agency, it killed 187 coyotes there.
    Both years, the vast majority of the animals were killed in the southern part of the county around Carey. Most of the coyotes—207—were shot from the air. Seventy-two were killed on the ground.
    Idaho Wildlife Services Director Todd Grimm said most of the coyotes killed on the ground were shot, though some were caught in traps. He said none were killed with poison, and none have been in Blaine County at least since he began serving as director in 2003.
    Throughout the state in 2013, the agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, killed 2,773 coyotes. The animals were one of 21 species targeted by Wildlife Services in Idaho that year.
    Grimm said that even though the agency’s coyote control actions take place statewide, most were in the southern part. He said all the coyote kills in Blaine County were made at the request of livestock producers.
    “We only work in areas where we have problem coyotes,” Grimm said. “We don’t go to places where there are lots of coyotes and no problems.”
    He said the requests came from both sheep and cattle producers, though most were in response to reports of coyotes threatening sheep.
Grimm said the actions occurred on both private property and public land. He said that in the summer, most were on public land, and in the winter, most were on private land.
   Grimm said that since Jan. 1, 2013, Wildlife Services has verified that coyotes killed seven lambs, six ewes and four calves in Blaine County.  He said the agency received reports of another 18 lambs killed by coyotes that it was not able to verify.
   “There are likely many more animals killed by coyotes that are not verified because, since there is no compensation program for livestock killed by coyotes, there is no incentive to have an official investigation done,” he said.
    Grimm said that many of the verified coyote depredations were reported as caused by wolves or mountain lions, but after investigating, Wildlife Services concluded that coyotes were responsible and not the species originally reported.
     John Peavey, who owns the Flat Top sheep ranch near Carey, said coyotes are almost always present around sheep bands.
    “It’s something you just live with,” he said.
    He said he tries to keep at least four guard dogs with each band of about 900 ewes with their lambs. He said the sheep instinctively group together on ridge tops at night, making it easier for the dogs to guard them.
    “They’re fairly effective, but not foolproof,” he said.
    However, he said, he only calls on Wildlife Services when he needs extra help.
    John Faulkner, owner of Faulkner Land and Livestock, which is based in Gooding but grazes sheep in the Wood River Valley, called coyotes “quite a bit of a problem.”
    “We shoot them when we can catch them,” he said.
    He declined to discuss the issue further.
    Brian Bean, co-owner of Lava Lake Land & Livestock, which is based at the southern end of the Pioneer Mountains, called coyotes “the number one predator for us.” He said that despite using sheds for its lambing, rather than allowing ewes to give birth on the range, his operation loses about 4 percent of its approximately 10,000 lambs every year, most to coyote predation. He said that extent of loss is pretty consistent with the industry average. He said lambs are worth $200 to $250 each.
    However, he said, Lava Lake neither shoots coyotes on its own nor calls in Wildlife Services.
    “Part of it is philosophical and part is understanding the biological effect,” he said. “The more you shoot or poison or trap or kill them in various ways, the more it creates a pretty big reproductive response. It absolutely is an ephemeral effect. You can’t just extirpate them and expect a decade of relief.”
    Bean said guard dogs are more effective, and he uses as many as he can. However, he said, he has found that if more than about six dogs are guarding one band of sheep, they tend to start fighting each other.
    “The guard dogs do the best they can, but they can’t be everywhere at once,” he said.
    Bean said the coyotes tend to “pick off lambs at the fringes.”
    In early September, Advocates for the West, a nonprofit environmental law firm in Boise, notified Wildlife Services of its intent to file a lawsuit on behalf of four conservation organizations to require it to update its environmental analyses. Among other claims, the groups contend that an environmental analysis of Wildlife Services’ activities should address new research on the efficacy of nonlethal predator deterrents such as barrier and scaring devices, including noisemakers and fladry. The notification was in accordance with a 60-day notice requirement of the Endangered Species Act.
    Suzanne Stone, program manager for the Wood River Wolf Project, said the nonlethal deterrents that the program uses to scare wolves also work with other predators, including coyotes. She suggested using portable lights in addition to multiple guard dogs.
    Nationwide during fiscal year 2013, Wildlife Services reported killing 75,326 coyotes, as well as 24,390 beavers, 3,706 foxes, 11,698 raccoons, 876 bobcats, 419 black bears, 345 cougars and 321 wolves.
    The most recent reports by the National Agricultural Statistics Service for cattle (2011) and sheep and goats (2010) indicate predation on about 450,000 head of livestock annually, resulting in combined losses of about $119 million.
Greg Moore:

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