Coyote numbers climbThe area coyote population is up around Douglas County and that could be a good thing.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The area coyote population is up around Douglas County and that could be a good thing.
Wildlife Technician Jason Strege and the local Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Glenwood have conducted scent-post surveys to gauge how the predator populations in the area fluctuate. Disks are placed along dirt roads with scent on them. The DNR then uses the tracks left around the disk to determine which predators are most prevalent in the area.
“In Douglas County and the transition zone there is an increase in coyotes,” Strege said. “It’s kind of a trend. You can’t get a population estimate on this. We have seen an increase in coyotes but not exponentially or anything.”
That is better news than most people think. Coyotes are an integral part in a balanced ecosystem. When the coyote population is high, the smaller predators like the red fox and raccoons and skunks are kept in check.
“The biggest benefit of having coyotes in the area is they are a natural part of the ecosystem,” Strege said. “One of the main things is that coyotes aren’t big preys on bird species like ducks and pheasants. By having coyotes in the area, you start to reduce the number of smaller predators. All of a sudden your bird populations are getting better. There is just a healthier balance of predators by having coyotes in the area.”
Douglas County could easily support more coyotes, according to Strege. The trend the DNR is seeing right now compares to numbers seen in the 1980s to the early 1990s. There was a dip in the number of coyotes through the 1990s to 2000. Since then the numbers have gradually continued to rise to the point where hunting the predator has become a popular winter activity around the area.
Hunters often think of coyotes as a detriment to the deer population, but it is a notion that Strege says is not true. Ninety percent of a coyote’s diet consists of smaller fur-bearing animals. If they do take a deer, it is often an animal that is sick, which can do more good than harm to the overall population.
“One of the misconceptions is that people think they kill a lot of deer,” DNR conservation officer Mike Shelden said. “I think you will find that’s really not the case. It is not that they won’t take a fawn, but there are easier supplies like rabbits and rodents.”
The increased popularity in hunting coyotes is good news for outdoor retailers like Jed Fiskness of the General Store in Osakis. Fiskness said sales on items for predator hunting have gone up by almost 50 percent in the last year. More people are getting into the sport, both for the fun of it and to help control the population.
“There are several groups that shot over 140 coyotes in the area this winter,” Fiskness said. “Those are the big groups. There are several smaller groups that are right around the 85-100 range.”
Those numbers may seem high, but its impact on the overall population is not devastating. Coyotes are at the top of the food chain among predators in Douglas County and hunters are helping maintain a healthy population.
“It’s pretty much impossible to hunt a coyote down,” Strege said. “People would have to shoot about 60-70 percent of your coyotes every year just to keep the population in check by hunting…I don’t like to hunt anything just for the sake of killing, but most of the guys that [take high numbers of coyotes] are skinning the animals and trading in their furs.”
Strege said the DNR has not had many reports of coyotes doing harm to livestock. The rare cases he does hear about are usually because of improper disposal of an animal after death.
“Proper carcass disposal is really important,” he said. “Coyotes will feed heavily on them and then they realize they are a food source. That is when it becomes a problem.”
These instances or attacks on people have been extremely rare. Strege has not heard of any cases in Douglas County where there has been a coyote attack on a person. Problems with the animal have not seemed to rise along with the population.
“They’re not the villain that a lot of people make them out to be,” Strege said.