About this coyote business. As often happens when country stuff gets caught up in the city media, the argument goes awry. Thus the case, as presented in its skewed way, is that the province is prepared to announce a bounty, although by general agreement they don’t work — the alternative being to do nothing, which won’t work either.

That’s not the choice, and a bounty — a payout to anyone who brings in a jaw — is not what’s being contemplated. Rather, it’s some form of price support to trappers, a more focused approach.

Part of the problem with the coyotes being suddenly brazen is that the price of their fur collapsed last year with the recession and trappers dropped off trapping them (there’s a worldwide market for the furs, used mostly as trim for cuffs, collars and parkas, but also for whole coats). The trappers’ federation has asked for price support to make up the difference to a minimum of $30 per pelt to a maximum of $50, and the province is considering it, or some form of it.

The price had dropped to around $10, but at the latest fur auction in Montreal it was up again to an average of $24. For a maximum of some 2,500 coyotes that might be caught, making up that difference to $30 would cost a grand total of $15,000; to $50, it would cost $65,000. Some years it would cost more; other years nothing. In other words, mostly painless for the taxpayer.

Although trapping, whether by bounty or not, doesn’t reduce the population in the long run, it has its effect. In what seems to have been a common experience in many places this past winter, there was a frenzy of coyote activity for several weeks around my place at Belleville, 15 kilometres east of Yarmouth, after some of them brought a deer down on the ice. Cats were disappearing, lawns were all tracked up, there were droppings on one man’s veranda, small dogs were terrified, and so on.

My local trapper, Calvin Nickerson of nearby Glenwood, normally takes up to 20 in a year but didn’t this winter because of the price. I asked him what difference removing 20 animals from the area would have made to the general mayhem. “A lot,” he said emphatically. Mike O’Brien, manager of the fur bearers’ division for the Department of Natural Resources, generally agrees.

He’s been scouring best practices elsewhere in North America as part of the new policy, to be announced shortly by Natural Resources Minister John MacDonell. The evidence is that bounties don’t reduce the population, he says, but trapping increases the coyotes’ “level of wariness” and keeps them farther away from humans: the most that can be hoped for.

Getting the trappers at it again, however, only covers part of the territory. The suburbs of Halifax and the edges of towns everywhere where trapping doesn’t take place, plus the parks, account for the rest. After scouring the continent, the only solution for the suburbs, says O’Brien, appears to be to go after troublesome animals one by one. The department has been doing that with increased vigour — including hiring trappers for specific jobs — since the public’s alarm at the death by coyote attack of Taylor Mitchell, a young woman and a singer-songwriter of promise, while hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park last fall.

And perhaps more important, there’s education — teaching the public to stop inadvertently feeding them and giving them the idea that “hanging around humans works for them.” He gives an example. A couple of coyotes hanging around a school outside metro were trapped recently. Their stomachs were found to be full of beef and pork offal from a butcher shop a mile away.

Meanwhile, Parks Canada is about to start a round of consultations with communities around the Highlands park to figure out the best way to deal with the problem there and in other parks — which includes people leaving food around and encouraging them. Although the Mitchell death was only the second ever recorded by coyote attack in North America, the fear it engendered – and the skittishness tourists might have about the park — is real and must be dealt with.

Finally, another factor in the coyote presence is that the rabbit population has declined in its regular cycle, and they’re hungry. That’s their main food in the wild, and the normal cycle would be that the coyote population would follow the rabbits downward over the next couple of years.

In the end, this is not the problem it’s made out to be, either biologically or politically. A minor amount of incentive for trapping, more public education and a targeting of problem animals will take care of most of it. The rest has to do with us living alongside nature, something we’re not very good at.

Ralph Surette

Ralph Surette

Ralph Surette is a veteran freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County.