This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Regardless of varying beliefs to whom or what humans are stewards, it is commonly accepted that, as a highly intelligent species, the responsibility has fallen upon us to be caretakers of the Earth. But are we doing our job?
The Utah Predator Control Program is one of many issues where stewardship has long been forgotten, usurped by supremacy. The funding for this program was made possible by two bills that passed in 2012. First, the Predator Control Funding Bill, which increased big-game licenses by $5 to fund the program. And second, the Mule Deer Protection Act, which awarded $750,000 to be given annually towards the program. The objective is to incentivize hunters to kill coyotes in order to increase mule deer populations; and at $50 per animal, the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) reported that 3,000 to 4,800 more coyotes were killed in the first year of the program compared to previous years.
The DWR has also stated that there are many factors that play into the declining mule deer population, and in a beat-around-the-bush sort of way suggest that predation is not the main cause. Among potential detriments, the DWR includes extreme weather, urbanization, unmanaged livestock grazing, fires and invasive non-native plant life, the manifestations of which are all traceable to human activity.
Surprisingly, the number of deer in Utah has been increasing, reaching populations not seen since the 1990s. And according to Bill Bates, wildlife section chief of the DWR, this success is much thanks to habitat restoration. Utah's efforts to improve the deer habitat has yielded 1.2 million reclaimed acres.
When presented with the opportunity, coyotes will definitely take down a deer. That's nature. But trends in the mule deer population decline would suggest that coyotes are not the primary suspect. And even if they were the primary suspect, the DWR says that biologists predict that 70 percent of the coyote population would need to be eradicated for a measurable difference in mule deer population to occur.
Time has proven that diminishing coyote populations by means of lethal techniques is ineffective. Organizations like BBC Wildlife and Born Free USA, among others, concur that killing coyotes ultimately does not (or at least has not) effectively eliminate coyote populations because of a simple chain reaction: fewer coyotes equals less competition. When competition for resources is reduced there is more food available, females have larger litters, are able to produce more milk, and ultimately the killed coyotes are replaced within a short amount of time.
The Natural History of the Urban Coyote adds that coyotes keep animals such as geese, rodents and raccoons (which can become destructive when allowed to overpopulate) in check. A system which has been broken in the coyote's case, due to events like the expulsion of wolves and other predators that keep the coyote population in check.
I came across an interesting sentence on the DWR website, "If there's one word that can get a deer hunter's blood boiling, it's this one predator." There is great harm in thinking that humans are above nature. Aren't humans predators? Or perhaps humans have a more deadly impact than hunting alone.
Killing coyotes isn't the best way to protect the deer population. The deer need protection from human appetite, and I am not talking about venison. Utah's Predator Control Program is a just a symptom of the human-fix-nature cycle, which is in constant need of patchwork to cover the mistakes. Before continuing with a vicious cycle where imbalance leads to imbalance, motives must be evaluated and appetites kept within our means.
Matt Huntington lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and studies Health Society and Policy at the University of Utah.