The closest thing Delaware has to road runners is the Delaware Technical Community College mascot, but that hasn't stopped some wily coyotes from making their way into the First State.
Just how many coyotes are here is still unknown, but Sussex County Council would like to see the population controlled before it gets out of hand. At its Aug. 13 meeting, council unanimously voted to pass a resolution calling for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to allow year-round hunting of the Eastern coyote. The panel cited public safety, preservation of crops and the animal's potential impact on real estate and the economy as the reason for passing the measure.
“I'm an animal lover and all that, but I also like to eat,” said Councilwoman Joan Deaver. “I don't want them on the farms, destroying farms and our farm animals, and I sure don't want them in my district.”
Coyotes look somewhat like small collie dogs. They have erect pointed ears, a slender muzzle, and a bushy tail usually held low to the ground. Most coyotes are brownish gray in color with a light gray to cream-colored belly.
Coyotes have been in Delaware for at least 10 years, but many reported sightings in the last year are thought to have been the misidentified as dogs and red foxes.
– Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
Supporters of coyote hunting and trapping regulations are preparing to make another push. The topic is one of many set to be discussed at a DNREC public hearing for proposed revisions to wildlife regulations. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 4, at the DNREC Auditorium in the Richard & Robbins Building, 89 Kings Hwy., Dover.
“The way that population grows, it's time we step to the plate and do what's right,” said Rep. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville, who attended the meeting to urge council to support wide open regulations. “For the real estate and our tourism here, I don't think we need to be breeding coyotes.”
Wilson was among the lawmakers who proposed an open season on coyotes in 2012. The bill passed the Senate, but never made it out of the House Natural Resources committee.
Sixth-generation farmer Chip West said politics have gotten involved with the current draft of regulations, which calls for a hunting season of Nov. 1 to Feb. 28 and a trapping season of Dec. 1 to March 10. He said the proposed seasons are too conservative.
“I have nothing but respect for [coyotes], but I respect them so much in their ability as a predator and how they're going to affect our lives at some point that we need to get ahead of the curve,” he said.
West said it would be smart for Delaware follow the lead of neighboring states like Virginia and Pennsylvania, which each have year-round hunting seasons.
He describes the coyote as an apex predator, meaning it will be at the top of the food chain and affect everything. He said they're extremely opportunistic and will feed on anything from farm crops and bird seed to deer and domestic pets.
“They will affect our ecosystem from the smallest, ground-nesting creature up, and that's not good for any of us,” he said.
According to DNREC's website, coyotes have been in Delaware for at least 10 years. They have been documented in all 48 continental United States and Alaska as well as Canada and Mexico. The coyote population continues to grow because the animal is extremely adaptive and is capable of living in rural, suburban and urban environments.
Opponents to coyote-control methods include the Human Society of the United States, which says killing and trapping coyotes ineffective and inhumane. The group says coyotes removed from an area will only be replaced by others, and aggressive control methods will cause coyotes to begin breeding at an earlier age increasing the population.
Fifth-generation farmer Nathan Hudson agrees that it is nearly impossible to eradicate coyotes, but he still would like to hunt or trap the animal if it's on his farm.
“I would like the opportunity to use whatever tool would be available to me to do what I feel is fit for my farm,” he said. “If a groundhog runs out and I so choose to shoot it, I can do that. If a coyote were to run out and I so chose to shoot it, I would like to do that.”
Also set to be discussed at the Sept. 4 public hearing are establishing a fox trapping season, further defining of trapping regulations and authorize a new method to validate harvested deer. The full list of discussion topics can be found at www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Lists/Public Notices.
Written comments regarding the proposed changes are being accepted via email at Lisa.Vest@state.de.us or through mail to Lisa Vest, hearing officer, DNREC, 89 Kings Hwy., Dover, DE 19901.