Coyote growth hindering whitetail deer population

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Coyote populations have expanded rapidly since the species first appeared in the Southeast about 30 years ago and studies are under way in several states to gauge their impact on whitetail deer populations. This coyote was photographed in Aiken County, S.C., using a motion-activated trail camera.
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Aside from hunters and speeding cars, whitetail deer have had little to fear in recent decades, especially in the Southeast.

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John Kilgo (right) and graduate student Josh Schrecengost attach a transmitter to a fawn as part of a coyote-fawn study at Savannah River Site.  Special
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John Kilgo (right) and graduate student Josh Schrecengost attach a transmitter to a fawn as part of a coyote-fawn study at Savannah River Site.

Today, however, herds that once soared are shrinking -- and the secretive coyote might play a larger role than anyone imagined.

"Coyotes first showed up here in the '70s," said Charlie Killmaster, Georgia's state deer biologist. "They didn't do much in the '80s, but by the mid-1990s, they just exploded."

The rapid rise and continued expansion of a relatively new predator has spawned numerous studies to gauge their impact on deer populations.

"Last year, hunters killed 400,000 deer, and maybe 50,000 to 80,000 were hit by cars," Killmaster said. "As far as how many were killed by coyotes, we aren't sure."

Coyotes rarely kill adult deer, but there is growing evidence that their affinity for newborn fawns, which drop in May and June, is affecting herd numbers.

"What makes this predator so successful is that they are opportunistic and can eat any number of things, like fruits and small mammals," he said. "Deer are really only a food source for one short period, which is fawning season."

Studies in several Southeastern states show coyote-fawn predation is significant, especially in South Carolina, where the deer population fell by 36 percent from 1997 to 2006.

That year U.S. Forest Service research biologist John Kilgo launched a study at Savannah River Site in which five newborn fawns were tracked with radio transmitters. Coyotes ate four of them.

By 2008, Kilgo's group had monitored 60 fawns, of which 28 were killed by coyotes.

Kilgo said more data are needed to accurately define the relationship between the two species.

"The logical and first conclusion everyone jumps to when they hear these numbers is, we have to go kill some coyotes," he said. "But in fact, having hunters shoot them from deer stands or landowners removing handfuls of animals is not a solution. It's more a matter of learning how to live with them, because you can't get rid of them once they're here."

Last year, in an article in the Journal of Wildlife Management , Kilgo and other experts including South Carolina deer program leader Charles Ruth, U.S. Department of Agriculture biologist Scott Ray and University of Georgia deer research scientist Karl Miller collectively agreed the coyote issue warrants more attention than it has gotten.

The findings at SRS, they wrote, are similar to conclusions in other regions.

Two studies in Alabama, for example, found that coyotes kill huge numbers of fawns. On one tract, the ratio of fawns to adult females was measured at just 0.41.

After an intensive trapping program that removed 22 coyotes, the ratio almost tripled the following season to 1.20.

Although hard data are unavailable on the precise number of coyotes at SRS, "the important point is that the coyote population grew from zero in the early to mid-1980s into being well-established by 2000, and this growth was concurrent with the decline in deer fawn recruitment," the article said.

The impact of the coyote is important because deer and deer hunting are big business in the South, where hundreds of thousands of hunters spent billions of dollars on their pastime.

Killmaster said that just a few years ago, there were too many deer in Georgia, and rising numbers of deer-vehicle crashes led to more liberal bag limits and longer hunting seasons.

"Now, the deer population across the state is considerably down from where it was, but most of that was by design," he said. "We had about 1.4 million deer in 1997, the highest number ever, and we're down to about 904,000 today. We really want to be at about 1 million deer."

To sustain that goal wildlife agencies might need to include coyote kills along with car crashes and hunter harvest in future management decisions.

"Hunting is still the predominant cause of mortality for deer in the state, although we now have this new factor to contend with," Killmaster said.

Georgia biologists are halfway through a four-year study of coyotes and deer at state-owned Cedar Creek and B.F. Grant wildlife management areas, where deer survival rates are calculated as coyotes are trapped and removed.

"We want to see how coyote densities and deer densities interact," Killmaster said. "We'll be looking at numbers both pre- and post-coyote removal."

Other studies involve genetic analysis of coyote droppings to determine how many individual animals are present, he said.

A coyote advisory committee has been formed through North Carolina State University, and a former SRS scientist is involved in studies in northwestern Louisiana. Auburn University is conducting research and a study in south Georgia is scheduled to begin next year with participation from University of Florida.

"Very few of them have published yet, so a lot of them are still gathering data, like we are," Kilgo said. "We don't have a lot more information yet, but in the next year or two, I think we will know a lot more."

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bettyboop
7
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bettyboop 04/09/11 - 07:52 am
0
0
Simple enough...open season

Simple enough...open season on the coyote....

nycweeks
41
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nycweeks 04/09/11 - 08:29 am
0
0
"Real men don't...kill

"Real men don't...kill coyotes.", sayeth RHCP

seenitB4
79393
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seenitB4 04/09/11 - 08:37 am
0
0
We can't kill kudzu either.

We can't kill kudzu either.

Rob Pavey
533
Points
Rob Pavey 04/09/11 - 09:12 am
0
0
One of the points our

One of the points our biologists are making here is that coyotes are now part of our world here in the South - since it is impossible to eliminate them, we have to learn to live with them, which might require adjustments in how Georgia and South Carolina manage their deer herds, which is already a very complex task.

gaspringwater
3
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gaspringwater 04/09/11 - 11:31 am
0
0
Growing coyote numbers is

Growing coyote numbers is good news. They're one of the most adaptable animals in the world, and they can change their diet and social dynamics to survive in a wide variety of habitats. Hopefully they'll reduce the number of deer, rabbits, squirrels and even cats and dogs too. They're just human pollution on the environment. Hunting is still a popular sport in rural areas but both rural areas and hunting are on the decline. The ranks of hunters fall nationally to 12.5 million in 2006 from a peak of 19.1 million in 1975, according to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. Fewer young people are indulging in the blood sport and states are lowering the hunting age to entice youngsters. Won't be long before toddlers can legally go deer hunting!

Rob Pavey
533
Points
Rob Pavey 04/09/11 - 11:44 am
0
0
springwater, I'm not sure if

springwater, I'm not sure if coyotes are 'good news' but they do provide some benefits. A 2009 University of Arizona study, for instance, found that coyotes in urban and highly populated areas feed heavily on feral cats - a perennial threat to songbirds and native reptiles and amphibians. They found as much as 40 percent of the coyote's diet was from cats. (I'd sure hate to be one of those poor grad students who had to wander around collecting coyote poops to analyze in the lab).

AutumnLeaves
5646
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AutumnLeaves 04/09/11 - 12:39 pm
0
0
Saw one on Doug Barnard

Saw one on Doug Barnard Parkway near Phinizy Swamp, crossing the road like he owned it. He looked quite comfortable and healthy.

gaspringwater
3
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gaspringwater 04/09/11 - 01:10 pm
0
0
Deer inflict damage on corn,

Deer inflict damage on corn, soybean and peanut crops and even on home gardeners. And they soon get accustomed to all the tricks to scare them away. It wouldn't be surprising to hear land owners are putting out feed to encourage coyote populations in their neighborhoods. Seems like they have a home range of 12 to 15 square miles.

RoadkiII
6437
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RoadkiII 04/09/11 - 01:19 pm
0
0
In some states such as

In some states such as Florida and
Georgia, coyotes have been introduced
source http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/cala/all.html

This is what happens when man tries to control nature. Several years ago I was camping in southern Georgia and came upon an interesting fact. The US Government was doing a study to see why the rabbit population was falling since the introduction of coyotes to the area. Yep, millions of dollars to find out that coyotes were eating the rabbits.

hiaht74
0
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hiaht74 04/09/11 - 01:21 pm
0
0
I've seen a few

I've seen a few recently....one in the Martinez post office lot, one on Old Evans and the last one trotting through my neighborhood (Baker Woods)!

Martinez
154
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Martinez 04/09/11 - 02:01 pm
0
0
There are at least two living

There are at least two living around Petersburg Tennis Courts & Pool area as we have seen them pretty regularly since December / January. They have always quickly retreated toward the wooded areas though as soon as they see us.

vickidu52
15
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vickidu52 04/09/11 - 02:24 pm
0
0
Just put out the word that

Just put out the word that coyote taste exactly like fried chicken and they will be hunted and killed by Southerners! Problem solved. You kill it, I grill it.

Rob Pavey
533
Points
Rob Pavey 04/09/11 - 02:39 pm
0
0
I wish we could teach them to

I wish we could teach them to eat armadillos.

Pu239
284
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Pu239 04/09/11 - 02:55 pm
0
0
Armadillo = Possum on the
Unpublished

Armadillo = Possum on the half shell...

gaspringwater
3
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gaspringwater 04/09/11 - 03:08 pm
0
0
We need more Armadillos in

We need more Armadillos in the wild. According to the University of Texas at Austin:

Armadillos eat fire ants.

Many observant folks notice that armadillos dig into fire ant mounds and correctly assume that they are eating the ants. Armadillos also dig into mounds in droughts when more favored foods are hard to find. Actually they do this when the colony inhabits the uppermost parts of the mound, the portion of the approximate 3 ft deep nest that offers the best temperature for developing brood. Developing brood is what armadillos eat.

grinder48
1714
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grinder48 04/09/11 - 08:52 pm
0
0
Need to kill - by whatever
Unpublished

Need to kill - by whatever means - as many coyotes as possible. This article fails to mention that coyotes destroy (kill / eat) every game bird/animal they can catch. They are highly detrimental to turkey and quail because turkey and quail (and others) nest on the ground and coyotes raid the nests and eat the eggs ... in addition to killing fawns. The DNR needs to introduce an elimination program. Need to put bounties on them ...

InChristLove
22407
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InChristLove 04/09/11 - 09:49 pm
0
0
gaspringwater, you might

gaspringwater, you might think the growing number of coyote is a good thing but let's wait until one kills a small child or attacks an adult, then we will see who all thinks they are a good thing.

soldout
1280
Points
soldout 04/09/11 - 10:51 pm
0
0
If we want to reduce the

If we want to reduce the numbers of coyotes I am sure we can find a way.

tres257
8
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tres257 04/09/11 - 11:03 pm
0
0
Attempting to "eliminate"

Attempting to "eliminate" coyotes will be futile. As their numbers decline, they will have bigger litters to compensate. They are very resilient.

Rob Pavey
533
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Rob Pavey 04/10/11 - 09:25 am
0
0
grinder, I'm not sure I agree

grinder, I'm not sure I agree that they impact quail and turkey. It nothing else, coyotes kill lots of small rodents that - left alone - would destoy nests and eggs.

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