Latest articles

Please do not shoot those coyotes

One man’s poison is another man’s meal. Or at least a meal for that pesky coyote

Prairie people frequently get together to shoot coyotes, often with the support of local farmers. I’m not against disposing of problem wildlife, but I fail to see any benefits from shooting coyotes.

Coyotes are a major reason why we are not overrun by rabbits, jackrabbits, voles, mice, pocket gophers, rats and ground squirrels. If we exterminated coyotes, can you imagine the rapid build-up of these rodents? Fields full of rabbits and ground squirrels could result in losses of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per section to grain farmers.

Coyotes can kill sheep, goats and lambs, deer and occasionally calves. Sheep and goat farmers who use proper precautions with fencing, guard dogs, donkeys and llamas generally have few problems.

So, why the anti-coyote sentiment? Cats or sometimes dogs may be killed by coyotes, but this usually only happens in the winter when these animals are left outside. I have seen coyotes wipe out Canada goose nests and take whole batches of goslings. But do we need more Canada geese? The much-maligned coyote probably saves prairie farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in increased crop revenues both in the field, in hay stacks and in grain storage.

Other helpful ‘pests’

Foxes likely rank second to coyotes in rodent control. Again, they do a credible rodent control service every day of the year. They only become problems if you raise chickens that roam freely.

Badgers are particularly good at digging up ground squirrels and pocket gophers but the mess that they create on cropland may be worse than the rodent control they perform.

Prior to the European invasion of North America, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, badgers and pocket gophers did all of the “ploughing” — turning on average about 10 per cent of the soil every few years. (Earthworms were brought here by European settlers.)

Birds of prey (raptors) such as hawks, falcons, owls, seagulls and crows feed heavily on the rodent population. In the 70s and early 80s when I commuted between Edmonton and Vegreville I was dumbfounded by the number of hawks that I saw shot along the Yellowhead Highway 16.

Around this time there was an uproar about DDT and mercurial grain seed treatments killing off the raptor population. The evidence was flimsy at best, but these chemicals were dangerous and could poison the handler. DDT was blamed for eggshell thinning in birds of prey, but I would say lead at high speed was the probable cause. Birds of prey will defend their nests and became easy targets for misguided individuals with shotguns. I was told that in the 70s, one could sell peregrine falcons to falconers in the Middle East for $10,000 or more. Empty nests may not have been due to thin egg shells.

And grizzly bears? Army cutworms lay their eggs in winter wheat, winter triticale and newly seeded alfalfa in the fall. They hatch and feed briefly. In the spring, these cutworms resume feeding and can damage fields to the point where reseeding is necessary. In late June, these army cutworm moths migrate from fields to the Rocky Mountains, where they hide (aestivate) under small rocks on the mountain slopes. Grizzly bears eat up to 40,000 of these moths in a day, putting a big dent in the population before they migrate back to the cropland in September to lay eggs.

Colorado beetles are a destructive pest of potatoes, but can be helpful to pea and canola growers. I have seen many pea and canola fields heavily infested with wild tomato plants. Wild tomatoes produce poisonous tomato-like seeds about the size of a pea. When they infest pea crops, they can be harvested along with the peas and create moisture and grading problems. I have seen Colorado beetles appear in countless numbers and completely devour all parts of the wild tomato plants, from stems to berries, and clean up whole quarter sections of this problem weed.

You could conclude by saying that “one man’s poison is another man’s meal” or, “every cloud has a silver lining.”

About the author

Contributor

Dr. Ieuan Evans is a forensic plant pathologist based in Edmonton, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected]

explore

Stories from our other publications

Comments