This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah bounty hunters are killing more coyotes than ever, but why the state is paying them to do it is still a good question.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has released its latest annual report on the state's Predator Control Program, under which the state will pay $50 for every coyote killed on certain Utah lands. In the fiscal year ended June 30, 2015, some 8,192 carcasses were turned in. For that, the state paid out more than $409,600 in bounties.
The intent of the program is to protect the mule deer population for hunters, but it's unclear whether it has much effect. For one thing, DWR scientists don't even know how many coyotes there are in Utah. For another, their populations tend to be controlled by the amount of food available to them. If the bounty hunters take out some coyotes that would eat deer, other coyotes will have litters that can grow to adulthood on that extra food. What's more, many of the coyotes are taken from places where deer predation is not a big factor, but they're still worth the $50.
Utah's mule deer population was about 289,000 in 2004, but it had grown to 355,000 after the 2013 fall deer hunt. The credit for that goes not to bounty hunting but to efforts to improve more than 1 million acres of deer habitat that began more than a decade ago. In fact, the growing deer population means there is every reason to think the coyote numbers also have grown since the bounty program began in 2012.
For its part, the DWR is willing to keep paying out the money to see if one day it will see evidence of success. After three years, the division estimates that 39,551 coyotes have been killed in this and other programs. Consider these lines from each annual report's conclusion:
2013: "The program will need to be in place for additional time before the Division can determine the total effect of the General Predator Control Program on Utah's mule deer population."
2014: "It may take several years of implementation of this program before improvements in fawn:doe ratios statewide may be observed and this effect may be more visible on a unit:unit basis."
2015: "It likely will take several years of implementation of this program before improvements in the fawn:doe ratios statewide may be observed and this effect may be more visible in local areas versus statewide."
After three years, the coyote bounty program is still based on hope, not science.