By AD CRABLE, Intelligencer Journal, link to original post
Perhaps no critter in Pennsylvania has been the subject of more rumor, notoriety and speculation than the eastern coyote. Remember the stories that persist to this day that the Pennsylvania Game Commission, or insurance companies or foresters secretly released coyotes into the state to trim the deer herd?
Now, the wily predator is being reviled anew as a key figure in the latest brouhaha over how deer are managed in the state. There are those, several Pennsylvania game commissioners among them, who fear coyotes are making a considerable dent in the deer population, already intentionally whacked down by hunters.
The contention is that growing numbers of coyotes are taking deer, especially fawns, and will stymie attempts to let deer rebound. The Game Commission should factor in such considerable predation in determining deer quotas, but is not, according to critics.
A recent study using DNA testing to show that coyotes in Pennsylvania and New York are mostly coyote-wolf hybrids — and thus bigger, more effective hunters than their western coyote counterparts — fuels the fire.
Reports of coyotes surfaced in the 1930s and the first documented coyote was killed in Tioga County in 1940. By 1990, an estimated 1,810 were being trapped and shot. The take rose to 11,652 in 1998 and 23,699 in 2008.
Coyotes have been found in very Pennsylvania County, including Philadelphia. Given their secretive nature, there’s no way of know just how many are in the state.
Matt Lovallo, the Game Commission’s furbearer biologist, has said 50,000 to 60,000 may be a good guess with the population still growing in southwestern and southeastern parts of the state. Ha. Try 200,000 to 250,000 says Randy Santucci, a Pittsburgh businessman who’s launched his own research into the issue.
He says in talking to biologists and reading studies in such other states as West Virginia, South Carolina, Virginia, Maine and Alabama that it’s becoming clear that “the predation factor of these coyotes is a big issue.”
He says, for example, that West Virginia had zero reports of livestock damage from coyotes in 1991. In 2005, there were claims filed for 1,300 calves and 2,300 sheep. He says more people are coming forward in Pennsylvania to relate stories of adult deer being killed by coyotes.
“It shows these animals are pack hunting and killing adult deer,” says Santucci, whose current effort is trying to line up a presentation of his research and message to the state House and Senate game and fisheries committees.
“I think the concern that many people have is we have drawn our deer numbers on public lands down dramatically to less than 5 deer per square mile. If there are lower numbers, and we have fawn predation, there’s more impact.” But Game Commission biologists and a Penn State researcher remain adamant that coyotes are not taking an inordinate number of deer.
“I have no information to suggest that coyote predation is a problem,” says Duane Diefenbach, an adjunct professor of wildlife ecology at Penn State, who performed the seminal study of fawn mortality in Pennsylvania from 2000-2002.
His research involved radio telemetry tracking of more than 200 fawns in the Quehanna Wild Area in northern-tier counties and Penns Valley near State College.
The study found that nearly 70 percent of fawns died within a year in forested settings. About 22 percent was from predation, with about two-thirds of that coming about equally between coyotes and bears.
But, and this is the important part, according to the Game Commission, about 40 percent of antlerless deer killed each year by hunters are fawns.
That’s been monitored for decades. If more coyotes were killing more fawns, that 40 percent rate in the fawn-to-doe ratio would go down. It hasn’t, not in a single wildlife management unit, according to the Game Commission.
“From a management standpoint, we are achieving our management objectives of keeping most Wildlife Management Unit deer population trends stable,” says Jerry Feaser, Game Commission spokesman.
“Those trends are remaining stable with hunting as a primary mortality cause, as well as predation of bears, coyotes, bobcats and vehicles — not to mention poaching.”