DIF&W Targets Coyotes

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The Maine Game Plan for Deer includes an important call for limiting predation of deer by coyotes. While predation by bears was also recognized as a critical problem, the Plan set that aside to focus, at least initially, on coyotes.

The legislature appropriated $100,000 to control coyote predation of deer this year, and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife organized a working committee to create a plan. Committee members were Regional Wildlife Biologists Tom Schaeffer and Mark Caron and Warden Sgt. Dave Craven.

The three men created a plan that was reviewed and modified by the leaders of DIF&W’s Wildlife Division. Commissioner Chandler Woodcock approved the plan last August.

The 2012 Predator Management Program is impressive, comprehensive, and ambitious. It requires the agency’s wildlife staff to designate areas for the NEWME Deer Recovery Area, with a goal of reducing coyote density in those areas between early autumn and early winter, followed by efforts during the winter to monitor coyote presence and “manage predation events as needed through winter.”

A total of 26 priority areas have been designated so far in 10 Wildlife Management Districts in western, northern, and eastern Maine.

DIF&W’s John Pratte, Wildlife Management Sector Supervisor, says, “For those following our progress it is important to note that this effort focuses on areas of known winter deer concentrations which does not equate to concentrations or even presence of coyote.”

The Plan calls for trapping of coyotes in the designated areas to begin on October 17, three days after the commencement of the early coyote season, and running continuously through November 30 if favorable conditions prevail.

DIF&W recruited 27 trappers for this portion of the project. Pratte noted, “As expected, some areas had good trapping success while others did not have notable coyote sign to warrant a trapping effort.”

“The fall trapping effort has concluded,” Pratte reported on December 4. A total of 104 coyotes were killed, at a cost of $22,356, or $223.56 per coyote. Last winter, when DIF&W spent only $15,000 of the $50,000 appropriated for coyote controls, they spent $216 for each coyote killed.

Next up, hunters will be engaged. “As soon as we have snow or deer have yarded up our hunters will take to the field with monitoring efforts and responding to coyote sign/observations in these priority areas,” reports Pratte.

“With a program objective to reduce the impact of predation by coyotes on wintering deer in these priority areas we’ll keep you informed when the second phase is underway. For now, the deer are enjoying a snow free start to December,” concluded Pratte.

Thirty four hunters have been recruited for the next phase of the project. Pratte also reported that 19 volunteers have killed 28 coyotes so far as part of the agency’s program.

The plan sets aside a request to start coyote hunting earlier, reporting that, “The Committee is aware of various interests in commencing hunting activities as early as September 1. Our recommendation is to allow Regional Wildlife staff in consultation with Warden Service and other competent sources to make management determinations in the best interest of the resource and in consideration of the regional variables at play.”

Perhaps most telling, the plan continues, “A broad application of an early start date may strain the program budget, especially in a year when winter conditions may favor predatory efficiency and challenge general deer survival… when the most valuable protection may be that which is provided as winter progresses rather than loading control efforts on the front end.”

Many hunters may disagree!

Trappers and hunters who are engaged in the agency’s project must meet specific criteria, and trappers deployed in “lynx-sensitive districts” are required to be trained on best management practices and lynx avoidance techniques. Each selected trapper and hunter must sign a contract and accept very limited pay of $7.50 per hour and reimbursement of travel at 44 cents per mile.

Houndsmen recruited for the project are limited to the period of December 15, 2012 until spring dispersal or May 15, whichever occurs first and are “restricted to areas that are peripheral or outside of the Designated Area,” between ¼ and 2 miles from the Designated Area’s boundary. Houndsmen are paid $100 a day plus mileage.

All participating hunters and trappers must file timely and accurate reports that will be used to deliver “accountability in terms of costs, effort and gauging program objective.”  However, the Plan concludes with this important warning: “Further assessment of this program with regards to broader goals or objectives is beyond the scope of this directed effort, and will require independent funding and staff involvement.”

Well, here’s my assessment, free of charge.

While targeting just 26 of Maine’s estimated 2000 deer yards is certainly not going to rebuild the state’s deer herd, it’s an important recognition of the need for limiting predation of deer as one component of the plan to rebuild the deer herd. But you need only look at similar programs in other states to recognize that Maine’s plan is terribly underfunded.

Utah, for example, is spending $2 million a year to reduce predation of Elk, with much of that money coming from the federal government. And you have to wonder, at a cost of more than $200 per coyote, how long the Governor and Maine legislature will continue to invest in this program.

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