Conservation and Trapping Science

Newspaper: Less Trapping, Hunting leads to more wild animal sightings
Jul 2, 2022 10:12 ET

[Reprinted from original]

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Local officials said residents in and around Dubuque should not be surprised if they see more signs of coyotes and other fur-bearing mammals.

In recent weeks, some area residents have taken to social media to report seeing or hearing coyotes in Dubuque and the surrounding area.

City of Dubuque Public Health Specialist Mary Rose Corrigan said the only report of a coyote the city has received recently is of a dead one on U.S. 20. But Dubuque County Conservation Executive Director Brian Preston said his staff has received numerous calls reporting signs of coyotes in the area.

“I have had some calls from people seeing coyotes or other animals people are worried about being in town,” he told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.

Conservation officials offered two main reasons for the recent spate of sightings, both tied to increasing coyote populations.

Both Preston and Iowa Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Andrew Keil said a leading reason for the increased populations is a reduction in hunting and trapping of coyotes and other fur-bearing animals in Iowa.

“Without that hunting and trapping pressure, those populations are expanding into places we haven’t seen them before,” Preston said. “The only way we have to manage those populations is hunting or trapping. All of their predators are gone, the ones that would have managed those naturally — wolves and mountain lions.”

Keil said the decrease in hunting and trapping is largely due to rock-bottom fur prices.

“The fur market is essentially nonexistent right now,” he said. “We see that impact more with raccoons and muskrats, but that goes hand in hand with coyotes.”

Preston said skunks, possums, foxes and bobcats also are increasing in number due to decreasing fur demand.

“We’re just seeing explosions in all of these populations,” he said.

Preston said he suspects the decrease in trapping is due to a public perception of cruelty in the practice, which he said is a misconception.

“Things have progressed a lot in the technology to make it much more humane and quick,” he said. “And with these populations increasing, we’re going to see outbreaks in disease — distemper and mange. That is a much rougher way to die than hunting or trapping would be.”

Increasing populations means increased competition for food, which could attract predators such as coyotes to towns, according to Iowa DNR Wildlife Depredation Specialist Ross Ellingson.

“There may be additional food sources available, be those rodents or young rabbits,” he said.

Rabbit populations are also up, which Preston said he also credits as a reason for increased coyote activity.

“In town, it’s a factor that rabbit populations are really high,” he said. “You even see bobcats in town frequently now.”

If predators and opportunistic eaters such as coyotes are entering towns, it is increasingly important for people not to provide them food, Ellingson said.

“Some people leave scraps out or let garbage pile up, which just needs to be avoided,” he said. “Clean up barbecues and garbage. It’s similar to what we’ve been telling people because of the bear that has been seen in Dubuque.”

Ellingson said an increase in predator activity in towns also makes it more important for people to closely watch pets.

“Coyotes will prey on cats, certainly,” he said. “So make sure small pets are kept indoors unless they’re immediately being watched by the owner.”

Should someone encounter a coyote, Ellingson said to do something to instill fear in the animal.

“Make noise. Throw something at them. Try to remind them that people are something to be afraid of,” he said.

Keil said coyotes do not like sharing space with people or being in cities generally.

Ellingson also said it is important to report any problem caused by a wild animal.

“We want to be aware of those things too,” he said. “Some of these coyotes will exhibit more bad behavior than others and give them all a bad name. There may be things that can be done if there is a bad nuisance.”

Keil said he had not heard from residents who said they had physically encountered coyotes.

Preston said increasing populations in these wild animals also negatively impacts other wildlife.

“We’re seeing decreases in ground-nesting species like wild turkeys, pheasants, killdeer and turtles,” he said. “A lot of that might be these populations going up in animals that steal eggs.”