The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has presented its proposed regulations for hunting and trapping coyotes, and both supporters and opposition are making sure their voices are heard.
More than 50 people took the opportunity to express their opinions on coyotes and other proposed changes to the regulations at a public hearing Sept. 4 at the DNREC Building in Dover. Hunters are eager to legally kill what they consider an unwanted nuisance, while animal rights activists claim the non-native creature will not have a significant effect on Delaware's ecosystem.
“Allowing the hunting and trapping of coyotes and the other animals is not only inhumane, it is irresponsible,” said Patricia Haddock, president of Delaware Votes for Animals. “This proposal could result in the unnecessary suffering and terrible deaths of adult animals and leave many young pups orphaned and unable to survive themselves.”
DNREC's Division of Fish and Wildlife is proposing a hunting season of Nov. 1 through Feb. 28 and trapping season from Dec. 1 through March 10. Many hunters in attendance called the proposed regulations too conservative and lobbied officials to allow year-round hunting and trapping.
“I wholeheartedly recommend the elimination of coyotes,” said Dover resident Teddy Morwitz. “I am a dog person – I hunt with dogs – and I have had dogs killed and dragged off. Anything that can be done to reduce the population is wonderful.”
It is believed between 50 and 100 coyotes are present in Delaware, an estimation based partially on roadkill data that has found one to two coyotes are killed by automobiles annually. Comparatively, the Department of Transportation removes about 1,000 roadkill deer per year, said DNREC deer and furbearer biologist Joe Rogerson.
Rogerson said the presence of coyotes could have both positive and negative impacts on Delaware's wildlife. The population of rodents, raccoons and red fox would likely decline, which could increase the population of the ground-nesting birds those animals prey upon, such as wild turkey.
“Predator/prey dynamics are very complex issues because we're managing a very adaptive animal that has a very diverse diet, and landscape composition may be a factor,” he said.
Rogerson said he believes the deer population is productive enough to absorb the anticipated modest level of predation by coyotes.
Coyotes have also been known to feast on fruits, vegetables and livestock, which has many farmers also in support of the proposed regulations.
“Farming is important to my life and so is wildlife,” said farmer Ray Ellis. “These are fierce predators, and we do not need to let them establish. We need to do everything we can to eradicate them.”
DNREC is not trying to eliminate the animal from Delaware. Division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Saveikis said the regulations are meant to strike a balance among the various interests expressed.
“If these regulations are adopted or a modification thereof, there is always room to change them,” he said. “We intend, through the mandatory reporting, to track the coyote harvest, and if we find the regulations are not sufficient, we will change them.”
Many hunters strongly expressed their desire for more liberal hunting and trapping seasons, similar to those that exist in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Some hunters also supported the idea of nighttime hunting of the animal.
Saveikis said nuisance coyotes could be addressed through a proposed secretary's order that would authorize all private landowners to shoot coyotes that are considered a nuisance or depredating livestock or domestic animals. The order can be issued outside the regulations and is considered more responsive, Saveikis said. He said the department is waiting to see the final regulations before making a decision on the secretary's order.
“I think it was important to realize that the combination of the secretary's order and the proposed hunting and trapping seasons provide the tools for landowners to protect their property and effectively manage the coyote population,” he said.
Cathy Rash, vice president for Delaware Action for Animals, was strongly opposed to the hunting and trapping seasons because research suggests coyotes compensate for the loss of population by breeding at earlier ages and having larger litters.
“While we understand a few individual coyotes may be a nuisance to farmers, most are a valuable asset as having a natural predator helps keep smaller animals populations in check,” she said. “In the instance of nuisance coyotes, they should be dealt with on an individual basis instead of opening a trapping and hunting season on all coyotes.”
After listening to many animal welfare activists speak, Milton resident Ted Palmer described the cruel manner in which coyotes take down their prey.
“I hate the cruelty of animals [but] there is absolutely no comparison to what a coyote does to an animal,” Palmer said. “I'm tired of hearing about coyote puppies and how cute they are. They are cute, but they are a coyote and they need to be addressed as a coyote.”
Public comment will remain open until 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 19. Those wishing to submit comments may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or sending comments to Lisa A. Vest, Public Hearing Officer, Office of the Secretary, 89 Kings Hwy., Dover DE 19901.