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Coyotes a growing problem

By DICK MARTIN • Jan 13, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Once upon a time Ohio had thousands of coyotes, and bears, cougars, wolves, and buffalo, too. But all of those animals disappeared when the land was settled, coyotes included. They weren't seen again here until one turned up in 1919 in Logan County and 1920 in Guernsey County. That was essentially it until a few reports filtered in between 1934-61, with three more between 1971 and 78.

But somewhere along the line, the little "brush wolves" began to filter down from Michigan in greater numbers, and since mates were scarce or non-existant, began to pair with domestic dogs, producing "coydogs." Between 1982 and 88, their population jumped dramatically with 438 specimens collected in 71 counties, of which 87 percent were pure coyotes and most of the rest coydogs. Today, they're everywhere and being only lightly hunted and trapped, are likely to increase steadily to the limits of their range.

How many are there? That's hard to say, but it's substantial, and their population will likely increase further, since females will have one to twelve pups each April and May, depending on how well the female has been feeding and how healthy she is before mating. There just isn't any question that these big animals are having an impact on the environment and in some cases on rural landowners, with more and more cases on city dwellers. The problem is a simple one — when coyotes get hungry, they intend to eat. Anything at all and any way they can get it. Normally, these long legged, grey animals are omnivorous, feeding on what's most plentiful, rabbits (especially young ones), mice, ground nesting birds, grasshoppers and other insects, fruits, berries, even vegetables and grasses. It's all grist for the coyotes’ mill.

But when times are hard, especially in late winter and if there's plenty of snow cover, they'll turn to human dwellings looking for a meal. There have been a number of attacks on sheep, which are easy prey, especially if hunted in small packs or family groups, and they love cats. One farmer who lives west of Shelby had six cats living in his barn, then four, then two, then one. Tracks showed coyotes were taking the animals, and when the farmer complained to friends who had good dogs, they killed four coyotes in his woodlot. Presumably, he still has the one.

There have been cases of chained dogs being killed and eaten too, and several people who keep free range chickens, ducks and geese, have lost substantial numbers of their flocks. Again, when coyotes are hungry, they will eat. It's tough to prove, since coyotes are mostly nocturnal and do their hunting at night, but there's at least some evidence that the hungry animals are making serious inroads on wildlife, and outdoor folk who like to hunt and trap should be aware of this. Grey fox are almost extinct in the northern half of Ohio, with numbers so low that one fur buyer who purchases pelts from a large area around Mansfield bought only one grey last year. Apparently, in deep snow the little greys can't escape long-legged coyotes.

Red fox numbers are down too, perhaps for the same reason, and muskrat populations have nosedived. Part of the blame here, other than trapping, might be great horned owls taking the young when they're feeding near ponds and streams at night, but coyotes will also find the animals easy pickings when they're on the banks or inland a bit.

Is there any answer to the problem? Not really. Trapping can thin them, and a knowledgeable trapper should be a welcome visitor, as should dog hunters and predator callers who like to seek these animals. Many sporting goods stores will have the names of a dog hunter and caller or two willing to come. Otherwise, keep your fingers crossed and kill them when you see them. And hope their presence doesn't get any worse.

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Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at richmart@neo.rr.com. You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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