Are coyotes smarter than humans? There are many times when I think so. Humans generally dislike coyotes; probably because they are in competition with us. With success. Coyotes are expanding their range. Their population is also increasing. What are people doing about it? And – should we really do something?
The coyotes are poisoned. They are shot down from planes and helicopters. Our government sends trappers. There are coyote calling and hunting contests. Nearly half a million coyotes are killed each year in the United States. Yet the coyotes continue to move further. They live in downtown Los Angeles. No one knows exactly how many there are, but there’s no doubt that coyotes are all over the city.
Chicago and New York also have large populations of coyotes. The range of the coyote has increased by more than 40% since 1950. Once found only in open prairie, they now range from Central America to the tundra of Alaska.
To my knowledge, the first coyote arrived in Paxson, Alaska in the early 1970s. They are still there. Years of deep snow send them rushing back to the Delta Junction or Glennallen area, but they will come back – on the verge of melting snow. Coyotes can live in almost any condition and will eat anything they find. Hares and voles make up most of their diet in Alaska. Berries, birds and fish are also common foods. City coyotes eat cats, rats and garbage.
Urban animal dens in parks and in low-traffic areas between houses. Our Alaskan coyotes are a bit more shy, preferring to shelter on well-drained hillsides away from humans. They are also larger than most American coyotes. Coyotes weigh between 20 and 50 pounds. Alaskan animals are at the higher end of this scale.
Coyotes and dogs have a lot in common. They can interbreed with domestic dogs; the offspring are called “coydogs”. The gestation of the coyote is the same as that of our domestic dogs; 63 days. Four to six young are born in early June. The young are cared for by both parents and emerge from the den at four weeks old. Coyotes hunt in family groups during the first winter. The females generally stay with the pack while the young males find their own way in the spring.
The natural predator of coyotes, not including humans, are wolves. Reduce the wolf population and the coyotes thrive. People are afraid of wolves. We are not afraid of coyotes. Since 1977, there have only been two verified wolf attacks in North America, one of which was fatal. However, 367 coyote attacks were recorded; including two fatalities.
Coyotes are the most common large predator in most of North America. We mostly exterminated wolves in the south. The range of mountain lions (which occasionally capture a coyote) has also been greatly reduced. Our Alaskan coyote is more limited by the environment than by predation. I spotted a coyote from the air near the town of Naknek (Bristol Bay) in the 1990s. In 2021 we ran along the beach near our setnet site. A buddy of mine trapped a couple in the tundra a few miles from town. They are around, but not common.
Delta Junction may have the highest coyote population in the state. Large barley fields provide plenty of voles for coyotes to feed on. Trappers get a few, predator decoys get a bit more. Not enough to make a dent in the population. Coyotes kill approximately four million livestock each year in the United States. The government kills about 70,000 coyotes a year and spends millions to do so.
The coyote population continues to increase in areas where they are hunted the most. A hard-hit population recovers quickly with larger litters. Nature does not like a vacuum. Studies show that motion-activated lights and noise makers are reasonably effective deterrents. Those who know anything about coyotes are skeptical. Experts believe that if there is no harm, the coyote will simply ignore these methods in a short time. Smaller fences are a good solution for cattle ranchers, but fences are expensive. Woven horse fencing works for us small chicken and rabbit farmers, but is not cost effective for large farms.
The shotgun is perhaps the best temporary solution humans can find. With a recent drop in demand for coyote pelts, there are fewer trappers in the field. It seems likely, when all is said and done and humans are a distant memory, that the animals that survived giant wolves and saber-toothed tigers might well join cockroaches and rats as dominant species left on earth.
Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a commercial fisherman from Bristol Bay and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.