Luke Clayton: Predator and prey
Outdoors columnist discusses the role predators play in our ecosystem
Many folks share my inherent feelings about predators; we dislike them because of their nature but know they are an intricate part of the natural world. They are genetically programmed to kill to survive. I detest the idea of a coyote pulling down a newborn whitetail fawn or a northern shrike biting through the spine of a cardinal at our bird feeder, and then impaling the songbird on a thorn while he rips him apart. I understand in the big scheme of things, predators are a part of nature and there is a reason for their existence.
As a hunter, I also assume the role as predator but like the vast majority of hunters, I strictly adhere to the game laws and bag limits determined by trained biologists whose job it is to determine how many game animals of each species needs to be removed each year to insure a proper balance. Largely because man has caused the natural cycle of nature to be disrupted, we now assume the task of keeping numbers in check.
I am positive before mankind took over as the ultimate predator and upset the balance, predator and prey species lived and died in an ecosystem that was balanced. It’s a proven fact that coyote females give birth to more offspring during periods when their numbers are low. Whether this phenomenon is because of more abundant prey species when coyote numbers are lower or other factors, I am unsure but it is a fact that predator numbers increase and decrease to suit their available food supply. Rabbits are a good case in point. I have noticed years when the woods near where I live are full of cottontail; I always see a lot more coyotes. When rabbit numbers are low, so are the number of coyotes and bobcat I see during the course of a year.
Whether we like to admit it or not, man has heavily upset the balance of nature in many instances and by necessity we have found it imperative to control predator species such as coyotes and bobcats. Without the removal of coyotes from the wilds (and often from our own backyards) their numbers would skyrocket simply because man is basically the only predator around that is capable of keeping their numbers in check.
About 25 years ago, eight gray wolves from Jasper National Park from Canada were reintroduced into our Yellowstone National Park. Rather than the smaller wolves native to this region, these were Canadian wolves, much larger than the ones that once inhabited our mountain states. These larger wolves were big enough to pull down larger mammals such as moose and were bigger and more hardy, just like whitetail deer that live in the frozen north country. The restocking program, in many folks’ eyes (myself included) was a huge mistake. These larger wolves survived and thrived and greatly reduces the elk herds in regions where their numbers increased.
For several years a friend and I outfitted/guided elk and bear hunts in northern Colorado. I remember the ranch owner where we hunted worrying about wolves from Wyoming coming down into Colorado. He had seen what the bigger wolves had done to not only the elk herds farther north but to the livestock on ranches as well. He and most ranchers were totally opposed to having wolves in the ranching country. Last year, Colorado adopted a law to reintroduce wolves to Colorado. I’m betting this will cause major problems on the many cattle and sheep ranches and greatly reduce the number of deer and elk in that state. The truth is that these larger introduced wolves that are not native to our mountain states are highly efficient killers and as their numbers grow, the game populations decline and ranchers are sometimes devastated by livestock loss.
In states such as Idaho, hunting and trapping of these “introduced” wolves is now part of the management plan. The Magic Valley Region of Idaho is offering a wolf trapper education class on their new Hunter Education facility at the Jerome regional office in efforts to control the number of wolves in the area. Anyone intending to trap wolves must attend trapper education class prior to purchasing wolf-trapping tags.
The problem with wolves is the simple fact that they are at the top of the food chain. In our mountain states only bear and mountain lion are capable of killing wolves and these predators seldom do battle. Why would they expend their energy fighting among themselves instead of killing game and livestock for survival?
I have a good buddy in southeast Texas that has about five hundred acres of heavy woods under game proof fence. He has trapped hundreds of coyotes that dig a couple feet under the fence to gain access to the deer and exotics. Coyotes definitely prey on our deer herds and not always the young. I once observed a whitetail doe on one of my game cameras that had been severely bitten and scratched in the throat area by what could only have been a bobcat. I think she survived the attack. I later watched a doe coming to a corn feeder with the same neck wounds that appeared on the deer on my game camera. I’ve never witnessed bobcats attacking deer but I once heard a ruckus in the woods near where I was hunting and found a young spike buck freshly killed with all the markings of a bobcat attack.
Whether we like them or not, predator species are abundant, even in our backyards and we must live with them. I feel absolutely no remorse in removing every coyote I can from the woods. Since there are no other predators with the ability to control them, I feel it’s my duty as a hunter.
Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via email at www.catfishradio.org. Click and listen to his outdoors radio show here and watch the weekly video “A Sportsman’s Life”.