By JOHN HARRIGAN
The irony in my op-ed in the Monitor is that if anyone should hate coyotes, I should. (a) I’m a lifelong hunter, (b) I’ve kept free-range chickens, and (c) for 10 years I was a partner in a major sheep outfit (150 ewes, plus any number of bucks, wethers and lambs).
Yet from reading my wildlife history (beginning with Helenette Silver’s History of New Hampshire Game and Furbearers) and listening to old-timers, I came to realize that we had created a vacant niche in the grand scheme of things by persecuting the Eastern timber wolf to extirpation, and so in came the coyote, a very adaptive creature which immediately began molding itself to fit the empty niche. That’s why our coyotes are getting bigger all the time, and they were already much larger than their cousins out West. But here, a larger animal does better in the cold climate. Plus, they had to learn to hunt together as a unit in order to be able to take down larger prey—western coyotes don’t do that.
Anyway, as a hunter I don’t begrudge the coyote its share of the wildlife pie—it’s not “my” wildlife to begin with. And I still manage to get my fair share of birds (partridge) or rabbits (varying hare) whenever I choose to go out. I might have to work a little harder, but I usually can come home with something for the pot.
As for farming vs. coyotes, that scenario is a falsehood. Farming and coyotes can go together pretty nicely if the farmer makes a little extra effort. So I kept very tight, very clean four-wire electric fencing (i.e., mowed both sides, and used weed-killer in a narrow stripe along the bottom wire), packing 4,000 volts. Plus, there were two big Maremma guard dogs in with the sheep, and they were always there, 24-7, 365. The coyotes were very well aware that they’d be torn to shreds if they hopped the fence. Lunch looked a lot cheaper elsewhere.
So I beseeched fellow hunters not to “do me a favor,” as they often said with the best of intentions, by shooting my coyotes. In fact, I asked them not to shoot any coyotes whatsoever. “I’ve got these all trained,” I’d say, not even half-jokingly. “I’d have to train a whole new bunch.”
So, here’s the op-ed.
THOUGHTS ON COYOTES
We get a lot of mileage out of that great saying, “It’s the New Hampshire way!” It has become something of a tradition. Somehow, it seems to put us a cut above the rest.
In New Hampshire, we honor another historical tradition, which is to do everything possible to protect wild creatures during their most vulnerable time—when they’re giving birth and raising their young.
We do this for moose, deer, foxes, fishers, trout, and partridges drumming away on hollow logs. Spring is a time of refreshment and renewal, a time to give the land and its creatures a rest. We like to think that we do everything possible to give Mom a break, and let her give birth and raise her young until they can fend for themselves. And so from April to August, most wild species are out of sight—and sights.
Except coyotes. Because they are not considered a regulated game species, there are few laws on the books mentioning coyotes at all. Ånd those that do exist are aimed at just one target: Killing as many coyotes as possible, whether trapped, shot, or starved. That’s right: “Starved.”
New Hampshire, by excluding coyotes from the birthing-time protection it gives virtually every other furbearer, prey species, and predator, leaves the coyote harmless, easy to find, and totally exposed.
In the world of coyotes, if Mom gets shot, whether by “accidental encounter” during deer season or by someone competing in a “killing contest,” there is nobody to bring home the groceries. To put it more bluntly, the coyote pups die from dehydration and starvation—the kind of slow, remorseless, agonizing death we’d never wish for our worst enemies.
House Bill 442 would prohibit the killing of coyotes from April 1 through August 31st. It may survive the process in its present form or it may be melded into a plethora of other coyote-related bills destined to be considered by both House and Senate this session. We’re almost certain, for instance, to see a bill banning coyote killing contests.
Wildlife is a hot-button topic for today’s voters, and we’ll probably see more than the usual number of wildlife-related bills during this biennium. Yes, the legislature is a poor way to make wildlife management decisions. But all too often, the Fish and Game Commission either thumbs its nose at widespread public opinion or ignores the recommendations of its own professional staff. Thwarted on the preferred route, the people thus turn to the second-best show in town.
While we’re thinking about coyotes and how we (mis)treat them, perhaps one more thing bears mention.
On the one hand we have the wolf, much bigger than even our already bigger-than-the-western coyote, a predator that was here in antiquity, ultimately will be back, and is a virtual poster-child for the environmental movement.
And on the other hand we have the coyote, close cousin of the wolf (they carry some of each other’s genes), which society treats pretty much like rats, for shooting at the dump.
Do we really want our abysmal treatment and shameful persecution of the coyote—based on misinformation, misunderstanding, and hypocrisy—to be an example of “The New Hampshire Way?”
John Harrigan is a lifelong hunter who is in his 51st year of newspapering and writes a syndicated column from his farm in Colebrook.