Canis latrans – the coyote – has been cast as a villain; humans have tried to exterminate him, his kind gets blamed for things he hasn’t done and, to add insult to injury, in cartoon form he often gets smashed flat by an ACME anvil.
Actually though, the coyote is a survivor that has adapted extremely well to humans.
Vince Evelsizer, Iowa Department of Natural Resources state furbearer and wetlands biologist, who is stationed at the Clear Lake office, said the coyote’s presence in Iowa predates settlement of the state.
“They’re native to Iowa,” he said. “They have a place to be out there. They’re not an invasive species.”
However, it may seem that way when homeowners inside city limits spot them in their backyards.
Evelsizer said that is an indication of the coyote’s ability to adapt and is actually something to admire.
“You have to respect their ability to survive and prosper in our landscape,” he said. “That is really something.”
Problems occur when humans and their pets, such as small dogs and cats, meet the coyote, who is as a wild carnivore. The coyote doesn’t see small dogs and cats as anything but a fairly easy meal to catch.
Therefore, Evelsizer said, it’s up to pet owners to protect their pets.
“If you have a pet you value,” Evelsizer said, “you’re responsible for it.”
Keeping cats indoors and walking dogs on a leash are two things pet owners can do protect them. Other common sense measures to keep coyotes away include keeping pet food indoors and keeping living things such as poultry in predator-proof enclosures.
Coyotes are often blamed for killing calves, but Evelsizer said that’s usually the work of a different canine.
“There’s not a lot of reports of calf-killing by coyotes,” he said. “It’s usually rogue dogs.”
Dakota Drish, Iowa DNR conservation officer for Webster and Humboldt counties, shares Evelsizer’s observation. He’s been working those two counties for three years and has seen little coyote trouble.
“I haven’t gotten that many phone calls as to animals being taken by coyotes,” Drish said. “I don’t think it’s a big issue.”
Another area in which coyotes have been fingered as culprits is in the reduction of red fox numbers. Evelsizer said that has more to do with changes to the habitat than the coyote.
The fox is less able to adapt to urban encroachment and agricultural land uses.
“The coyote does a better job in altered areas,” Evelsizer said. “Coyotes will continue to rule the roost in Iowa.”
Another factor that affects the success of the coyote population is their pecking order.
“They don’t have a top-end predator,” he said. “The only thing above them are wolves, and we don’t have a breeding wolf population.”
The one control on the coyote population that does exist are hunters. In Iowa, coyotes can be hunted year round with a hunting license or fur harvester license. There is a designated trapping season.
According to a report by the Iowa DNR compiled by Evelsizer, during the 2013-14 hunting season, 15,347 coyotes were killed. This was more than double the previous season’s harvest of 6,800.
While this may seem like a lot of coyotes, according to both Evelsizer and Drish, it in no way endangers their population.
“It’s good to have liberal hunting pressure,” Evelsizer said. “It helps keep them in check.”
The hunting also offers economic benefits. The hunters spend money on their license, gas, guns, ammunition and other gear. In addition, the furs are valuable.
“In the last two years, the price for a pelt has nearly doubled,” he said.
According to Evelsizer’s report, in 2012 the average price in Iowa for a pelt was $15.93; in 2013 it was $23.92.
The goal is achieve a balance, he said. No hunting pressure would result in an overpopulation of coyotes. Going to the other extreme isn’t good either.
“It’s not prudent to try to eradicate them,” he said.
Both Drish and Evelsizer suggest that the best way to deal with the coyote is to enjoy the animals for what they are – an intelligent and cunning survivor that’s not just survived, but thrived, in the presence of humans.
There is another way to enjoy them. Drish said that even though he usually doesn’t see them much, he does notice their presence in the early evening.
“In most areas of Webster County, if you go listen just after sunset, you can hear coyotes howling,” he said.
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