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Coyotes are known as a lot of things: dangerous, predators, vermin and target practice.  In 2009 the Saskatchewan government instituted a program which placed a $20 bounty on the heads of every coyote in the province; the program was incredibly popular, but some hunters abused the system by killing coyotes in other provinces and claiming the Saskatchewan bounty.

After two years and 71,000 dead coyotes, the program was not renewed, and the coyote problem was taken care of in the eyes of the government.

 

Despite this, coyotes are still aggressively targeted.  Last December two farmers were fined $21,000 for hunting coyotes from a helicopter.  Two months later a photo taken in a Tim Horton's drive-through of a truck bed full of dead coyotes attracted outrage on social media.Despite incidents like these, an open season remains on coyotes, and official limitations for coyote hunting remain absent.  Are we right to treat coyotes as a menace in the province?  Are we overreacting?  How effective is coyote hunting?

 

Mark Brigham, head of the University of Regina’s biology department, said the very act of hunting coyotes may not be as effective as we think.  Hunting coyotes will simply result in the creatures achieving maturity and reproducing at earlier ages.

 

“They’re just very bright, careful creatures that would respond by behaving in ways that would make them very difficult to find,” said Brigham.

 

Biology student and hunter/trapper Gabe Foley agreed “they might become more difficult to hunt or trap” but in his experience, hunting doesn’t lead to a reduction in population density.

 

“People have been trying to get rid of coyotes around human habitations and in general for 200 years or more and it hasn’t worked in the slightest.  Everything’s been tried, and none of it has worked,” said Foley.

 

Brigham also said carnivores rarely pose a threat to humans.  Brigham pointed to the low frequency of bear attacks (one to two a year) as emblematic of the unnecessary fear we attach to carnivorous animals.

 

“Humans just shouldn’t worry about it, quite frankly.  They’re not gonna carry off your children, they’re not gonna bite off your leg, they’re very shy, retiring beasts,” Brigham said.

 

Although Brigham cautions people to protect their pets, he feels wild carnivores can and should be appreciated and observed.  “We don’t get all upset if we see a magpie or great horned owl, we just enjoy it,” he noted.

 

So why do coyotes remain such a popular target?  Brigham posits a number of reasons, one which could be deeply rooted in our psyches.  “All I know is that we’ve hunted coyotes for a long, long time, ever since Europeans got here.  It’s just tradition, you see a coyote, you shoot it because it might take the chicken out of your coop, it might kill your dog,” he said.

 

Brigham said the coyote hunt poses an opportunity for government and people to do something which gives the appearance of doing something helpful.

 

Finances may also be a large driving force: a survey by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment found that in a period of 1998 to 2013, coyote fur was the most harvested alongside beaver and muskrat.

 

Foley recalls an auction house in Ontario which sees potential buyers from all over.  “The way that it works is that everything taken within North America goes to an auction in Ontario.  They get all this fur here and for or five times a year, buyers from all over the world convene to purchase the furs.  There’s family-run businesses and people who run enormous frigate companies,” he said.

 

Money may also affect how animals are perceived; Brigham said animals which are deemed dangerous or a pest “gets in the way of making money, or enjoying something” which leads to certain animals being labeled a threat or nuisance and targeted as a result.

 

While Brigham has spoken out on certain elements of coyote hunting, he acknowledges the appeal others see in it.  He compares it “to the Tor Hill golf course (where you) hit the ball into a lush green course and go for the putt, and there’s lots of people who think, ‘What a stupid waste of time, chasing a little white ball’ but lots of humans think it’s a great way to spend time.  It’s all value judgment.”

 

Brigham warns that people’s unpredictability is the largest danger, and our daily activity can pose a greater threat than any carnivorous animal.  Brigham added 30 to 40 Canadians die every weekend in car accidents in comparison to the one to two deaths caused by bears or sharks every year.

 

“The most dangerous animal is us.”