More than 5,000 carcasses registered with province since 1991
Early one morning in February, when Ross Hinks was checking his rabbit snares, he found another predator already feasting on his catch.
© Photo courtesy of Mike McGrath, Department of Environment and Conservation, wildlife division
The Eastern Coyote, known to prey on caribou and other wildlife, has been increasing in numbers throughout the province in recent years.
The natural resources director with Conne River’s Miawpukek First Nation government said his snares were set within walking distance, about a kilometre, from his cabin, located about an hour’s drive from the community on Newfoundland’s southeast shore.
The predator was an Eastern Coyote, believed to be descended from a coyote-wolf mix, which has been blamed for a decline in the Grey River caribou population in the area.
The Miawpukek First Nation community is about 560 kms from St. John’s.
Hinks said he saw the coyote before it detected his presence. He loaded his gun and shot it.
“It was a very large animal, quite honestly,” he said. “It must have been in the range, I would say, every bit of 60 to 70 pounds … I was amazed by the good condition it was in. It was very fat.”
A few years ago, some band council members witnessed coyotes stalking caribou and saw first-hand some of the damage done to the herd by coyote attacks.
According to the provincial Department of Environment and Conservation, an increase in coyote hunting licences offered by the province in recent years has resulted in larger harvests of the predators. Over the past three years, about 700 coyotes have been trapped or shot annually in Newfoundland. That’s up from 374 coyotes harvested in 2005-06 and 357 in 2004-05.
A government official says a total of 5,789 coyote carcasses have been registered with government from 1991 to 2009, representing the vast majority of animals harvested.
The province offers a coyote carcass registration reward of $25, as an incentive to gain access to carcasses to assist with biological investigation of the species. This includes carcass evaluation to assess their diets.
Efforts are also continuing to evaluate their ecological impacts through a radio collaring program.
The department says most coyotes have been hunted along the South coast barrens, with the least being harvested on the Avalon.
Hinks believes the increased hunting pressure has made a difference in the number of coyotes in the Conne River area because he hasn’t heard of as many sightings recently. However, he said, during the winter, there wasn’t enough snow for residents use their snowmobiles much and get on the land to observe them.
While there’s still concern about the Grey River caribou population, Hinks said there seems to be a few more animals around this year and a few more yearlings.
In 2008, the province announced a five-year caribou strategy to address declining populations. An assessment indicated the caribou population in the province had dropped about 60 per cent, to an estimated 37,000, from a peak of more than 90,000 in 1996.
Results indicated declines of 40 to 60 per cent for most herds on the island and up to 90 per cent for the Grey River herd.
The Department of Environment spokesperson said bounties, as a means to eradicate coyotes have been suggested, but experience from other jurisdictions where coyotes are native or have invaded, indicate they are ineffective over the long term at controlling them.
While it’s not possible to determine the exact coyote population in the province, the department says it’s probably still increasing and the coyote permanently established on all parts of the island.
“It was a very large animal, quite honestly.” said Ross Hinks
A 2006 government publication said coyote densities in New Brunswick were estimated at less than 0.1 per square kilometre. In this province, it considered a density of 0.05 per square kilometre, or half that of New Brunswick, as a reasonable estimate. Assuming the province’s entire land mass of 112,000 square kilometres is occupied by coyotes, this would yield a population estimate of 5,600 coyotes.
Coyotes in this province are harvested by multiple methods, including a coyote specific hunting licence, provincial trapper’s licence, incidental harvest by legal hunters, under authority of all other licence types for big and small game, and under permit in extenuating circumstances.
Coyotes were added as a trapping species in 1992 and, according to the environment department, each year about 1,800 to 2,000 trapping licences are sold annually at a cost of $10 each. The trapping season runs from Oct. 20 to Feb. 1.
Legislative amendments were made in 2002, allowing small and big game hunters to take coyotes incidentally. About 25,000 small game and 35,000 big game hunters avail of this opportunity annually.
The coyote hunting licence was introduced in 2004 and is free or charge to qualified hunters. More than 2,500 coyote licences were issued in 2008, according to the province.
Trappers, however, are responsible for the majority of the increase in coyotes harvested since 2002. According to the environment department, in any given year, more than 70 per cent of the coyote harvest is taken by trappers.
The province has been offering coyote hunter workshops in an effort to increase hunter participation.
While Hinks supports the coyote hunt, he said one of the biggest concerns people have voiced to him is that government regulations are too restrictive with respect to weapons permitted.
Provincial regulations state the weapons must be “a centrefire rifle not greater than .225 calibre, or a shotgun using shot size No. 2 or larger.”
A coyote brochure, produced by government, goes on to say most coyote hunters and ammunition manufacturers do not consider rimfire 22s adequate for harvesting coyotes, and these firearms are not permitted.
Other examples of centrefire rifles, not greater than .225 calibre which are permitted, include the 17 Remington, 218 Bee, 22 Hornet, 220 Swift, 225 Winchester, 223 WSSM, and the 204 Ruger.
Hinks said most of these rifles are very expensive. “People say, ‘I don’t know why you’re not allowed to use a regular 22.’ It would certainly do the job and have more people participating, to say the least.”
While hunting pressure is reducing the number of coyotes, Hinks said he still believes there are a lot of these predators on the southeast coast. He said, just about every time he goes to his cabin, there’s signs that they’ve been around including tracks and feces.
Although there have been safety concerns, especially for children, Hinks said the coyotes he’s seen up close have seemed “very wary” of humans. “As soon as we see them, they’re gone,” he said.