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Coyote Problems Increase as Population Numbers Grow

By Anne Waits
web posted August 4, 2014

COUNTY Imagine looking out on your deck and seeing a coyote eating your dog's food. Or in spite of the common belief that these mammals avoid human populations, you're driving down a suburban street and see one making his way through the neighborhood. Not far-fetched, according to Jay Butfiloski, furbearer and alligator program coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources in Columbia.

"Ever since the coyote came to South Carolina over 30 years ago, the population has steadily increased,"  he said. "In the past, they were only in the mid-west, but now they are everywhere--in every state, except Hawaii."

An often asked question is, "Where did they come from?" The SCDNR website states that contrary to rumors, DNR has never released coyotes into the state for any reason, including deer management. They were imported into South Carolina for hound running, an illegal practice that the SCDNR and Federal law enforcement has and continues to prosecute. Eastern migration has also resulted in natural expansion of the species, said the website.

Butfiloski said the complaints they're getting now are in or near the cities, even large cities like Greenville and Charleston. (When he said everywhere he meant it--Google "coyotes, Chicago" and you'll be surprised at what you find). 

Butfiloski said coyotes have their babies in the spring and are more visible in the summer months, An average adult coyote is about 35 pounds and resembles a large dog or wolf. Most are grayish-brown to reddish-tan or nearly all black.

"They prey on deer fawn and small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels and opossum," he said."They also eat domestic poultry and livestock, particularly sheep, goat and calves. Occasionally, even domestic pets in suburban areas. It is extremely rare for them to attack humans. There are only two known fatalities."

Local mayors said they have had no complaints of coyotes spotted in the towns.
Edgefield Mayor Ken Durham said he owns 40 acres of land in town and he has seen deer, fox and other animals, but only one coyote. "I hear them," he said. "So, I know they're there."

Johnston Mayor Terrence Culbreath said he has heard people talking about coyotes in the town limits, especially in the field in front of his house, but he hasn't had people calling in complaining. "If you do have problems with them, you have to call DNR," he said. "Animal control can't handle them."

Both towns have ordinances prohibiting the discharge of a firearm in the city limits.

"People in the cities are not used to dealing with wildlife," said Butfiloski. "Now, these old farmers will find a way to take care of the problem." Such as the case with two Edgefield County farmers.

Theo Williams, who owns 250 cows in Edgefield County, had problems with coyotes killing his newborn calves and dragging them off until someone told him to put a donkey in the fence with the cows. "The donkey will run the coyotes off," he said.

His son-in-law, Chuck Sanders, lost 16 goats until he did the same thing. Since then, he hasn't had any  trouble with them.

Kathy Langley, who lives in the Cleora section of Edgefield County with her husband Alvin, said her first encounter with a coyote was about 25 years ago when her daughter was 4 or 5 years old and was playing in the yard. "We looked out and a coyote was standing a few feet away from her," she said.

The Langleys have chickens and Mrs. Langley said they lost chickens right and left while they were away from home as long as the chickens were in a run with no top on it.

" We ran two pieces of wire around the pen and covered it with dirt," she said. "We had to totally enclose the chicken pens. We let them free-range now in an area that is fenced in with dogs in the area. That's only when we're home."

Tom Hughes, National Wild Turkey Federation vice president for conservation and wildlife biologist, said the NWTF has done extensive research and have not found that the situation has any direct correlation on the turkey population.

"Coyotes are not really efficient turkey predators," he said. "Not to say, they won't eat turkeys, they will. But they're much more likely to prey on other animals."

By far, the biggest problem the coyotes pose to the area is the deer population. Coyotes are negatively impacting our official state animal, the white-tailed deer, by preying on deer fawn.

"Since 2002, the South Carolina deer population has declined by more than 30 percent," said the DNR website. "While the deer population is still healthy, we do not want to see it further decline."

Dr. John Kilgo, a research wildlife biologist at the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station at Savannah River Site, where several studies have been done, said, "Coyotes have long been known to be effective predators on fawns and other small animals in the west, but in the past, eastern biologists have generally considered coyotes a management problem. However, recent research indicates that predation by coyotes are more of a concern than previously thought."

Research was done at SRS--the Department of Energy's 300 square mile forested area in western South Carolina..

"They prey on young fawns up to three months of age," Kilgo said. "Research shows the numbers are sufficient to explain the decline in deer population over the last 30 years, in areas like we saw at Savannah River Site."

Another factor also accounts for the decline, he said, such as the heavy harvest of does by hunters.

"Hunters hunting for doe affect the number of fawns being born," he said. "Hunters have always hunted doe but the problem is two-fold." Kilgo said even though coyotes were here since 1978, they only started to become a larger problem in the late 1980s and 1990s.

So, some people ask, what do we do about the problem?

First and foremost, do not feed them and don't leave pet food out, Butfiloski said.
"Residents can shoot at them within 100 yards of their house on their own property with no license," he said. "Coyotes can be hunted year round with a license. There is no closed season on private lands."

Electronic calls are permitted, he said, and night hunting is permitted with weapon restrictions. One should always check the local laws and ordinances.

Trapping season is open Dec. 1 to March 1. Property owners with coyote damage are eligible for a depredation permit from the SCDNR. No license or permit is required to trap a coyote within 100 yards of  home but the coyotes cannot be relocated.

Depredation permits allow to shoot at night. SCDNR may issue these with less stringent weapon restrictions under certain circumstances such as damage to property. Property owners can contact the DNR for more information. Currently, there are no intoxicants for coyotes; the use of poison to attempt to control coyotes is a violation of Federal and State law.

Intake from hunting, most notably deer, comprise most of the yearly coyote harvest in the state, according to the DNR. Commercial harvest incentive is low as there is not a strong eastern market for coyote pelts. As nuisance coyote problems increase, the demand for contract coyote control work should increase and the number of coyotes taken from trapping by nuisance wildlife control operators increase.

Butfiloski said that over time the land can't support any more coyotes and coyote populations are expected to stabilize allowing deer and small game to still exist in healthy numbers in the state.

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