By Connor Lynch
BRANT COUNTY — Chronic predation problems across Ontario, especially with coyotes taking sheep, have sparked some producers to say that it’s time for a bounty to come back.
But many producers say that getting a bounty back is impossible in the modern political climate, and a wildlife biologist says that bounties don’t work anyway.
Ontario Sheep chair Robert Scott, who raises 300 ewes in Brant County, said he’d love to be compensated for taking out a coyote, but there’s plenty of coyote hunting happening in Brant and it never seems to make a dent. “I’ve never seen an area in Ontario where we can bring the population down. They’re very adaptive.”
Putting a target on coyotes would also put a target on farmers, Scott said. “Issuing a government-paid bounty would bring the animal rights activists down on us.”
Predation is invariably one of the biggest problems for sheep farmers right across North America, Scott said. But he doesn’t believe that a bounty is necessarily the way to fix it.
The only recent change the province has made to the status of coyotes is in recognizing the Algonquin wolf, a hybrid species, as endangered and expanding the ban on hunting or trapping it outside of Algonquin park to a few neighbouring parks. Since it’s impossible to tell if you’re looking at an Algonquin wolf or a coyote, hunting any canids in those areas was banned.
At the municipal level, however, one township took matters into its own hands. The township of Burpee-Mills, on Manitoulin Island, put in a $50 bounty on coyotes at the end of last year, up to a maximum of $2,000 total.
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry research scientist Brent Patterson said he’s studied wolves and coyotes extensively over the last 15 years, including control methods. The short answer on bounties is they don’t work. It wasn’t for lack of trying; records show that Ontario spent the equivalent of $850,000 in today’s dollars on its coyote bounty back in 1918, he said.
For producers who’ve tried everything to control their coyotes but still have no luck, Patterson had sympathy but little hope to offer. Coyotes are highly adaptable animals, and controlling their ability to kill livestock is always going to be limited. Killing all the coyotes isn’t easy. They breed quickly — about 10 pups a year. Even if you do kill all the coyotes, you’re only buying yourself a few months until new coyotes move in, Patterson said. If you get lucky, the new coyotes won’t have a taste for livestock but could acquire it, he added. If 80 per cent of the coyotes were wiped out in a single season, the remaining coyotes would repopulate the area back to its previous levels in a single season, he said.
Research also indicates that a minority of coyotes target livestock, Patterson said. That means when it comes to killing problem coyotes, being precise about your target is important. Coyotes are highly territorial, so killing a coyote that isn’t interested in your animals means one that has a taste for lambs might move into your area. Leave your rabbit-hunting coyote alone, and it’ll keep the lamb-eaters away for you, said Patterson.