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BY STEVE HALL
Gray wolves tend to kill coyotes, just as coyotes kill fox, routinely and opportunistically eliminating the smaller predator, as a means of creating a larger base of smaller, safer prey, but starting in Minnesota and heading east over Lake Superior, young male wolves, who “disperse” from, in other words, leave Mom and Dad’s territory, to seek an unguarded territory, or a territory they may be able to take over, may discover that female wolves don’t generally disperse as far as males, so they may end up defending a territory no other wolf wants, and they may end up mating with a female coyote.
Deer hunters tend to bemoan the impact of eastern coydogs, more accurately termed coywolves, because of their hybridization with Algonquin wolves, on the deer population in the Northeast. But the coyote impact on deer numbers is much greater on fawns than it is on adults, partly thanks to our assistance with traffic accidents supplying deer as roadkill. A study by SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry a few years back concluded that, excluding fawns, 92% of deer eaten by coyotes in New York were killed by cars. About 60% of fawns reach maturity, while 80% of fawn mortality is caused by predators, including bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, bobcats, lynx, fishers, eagles, and even foxes. Other fawn mortality factors range from car accidents to getting caught in fencing or under farm equipment, or natural causes like starvation and drowning.
More recently, hunting generally, and deer hunting in particular, which peaked among baby boomers in 1982, while rising in some states, and falling in others, is in a fairly steady decline nationwide. We’ve lost 10% of all hunters in the last ten years, with less than 4% of Americans involved in hunting today, at exactly a time when, having largely eliminated wolves, nature’s tool for deer control, we need more human hunters to control deer numbers. For those concerned about health and red meat, venison is much leaner than beef, and probably half the calories.
Controlling deer without natural predators is no easy problem. Highest deer densities are often found in thickly settled suburban areas, where it is unsafe, and often illegal, to fire rifles within 500 feet of a dwelling, or shoot arrows, and the deer take a heavy toll on gardens and landscaping generally. Some towns and villages are experimenting with immunocontraception, to cut down the number of does breeding. Such methods may require multiple doses, and may only be good for a couple of years. Other towns employ specially vetted deer hunters to control local deer populations. Habitat carrying capacities, which increase as deer learn how to eat more human planted and invasive vegetation, determine how many deer a particular area can support, which means as you eliminate deer, other deer come in from surrounding areas.
This is a lesson we seem to refuse to understand. As we eliminate animals from habitat, for example beavers, they are replaced by other beavers who are attracted to the habitat for the same reason the removed beavers were. It’s good beaver habitat. The same thing happens with deer, but because deer eat a much wider range of vegetation, and learn to eat our gardens, as well as invasive plants, they expand the areas they can make a living in. We always treat the symptom, rather than the cause, and end up throwing nature’s balance further out of whack.
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