Turning the tide for Coyotes

by Nicole Rivard
Illustration by Merlin Mannelly

This time last year I was sauntering along a trail at Cherry Creek State Park in Colorado, passing time before my flight back home to Connecticut. It felt like Christmas came early when I found myself in the middle of a black-tailed prairie dog colony.

They were not as happy to see me—their sharp, steady barks warning each other of my presence carried over the grassland. Then I realized it was not just me they were sounding off about—a family of coyotes appeared out of nowhere.

Seeing a coyote family for the first time, I was awestruck by their beauty and playfulness—they were chasing each other, rolling over and jumping on one another, just like domestic dogs, who they are closely related to, as well as foxes, jackals and wolves.

The Canidae family is a 5.3-million-yearold family of animals who evolved in North America. Families typically consist of three to eight animals—the nucleus is the mating pair and normally only the alpha female bears pups.

Eleven forms of vocalizations have been identified, but coyotes have also developed an intricate system of nonvocal communication, shared with other canines and felines, called scent marking.

“It’s familiar to any pet owner who has ever tried to drag a dog past a telephone pole,” writes author Wayne Grady in The World of the Coyote.

On the plane I could not stop thinking about how unfair it is that once Americans began cattle and sheep ranching on federal public lands, the meat industry declared war on coyotes. The 1931 Animal Damage Control Act allowed coyotes to be earmarked for total eradication by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s killing machine, Wildlife Services. This rogue agency has gotten away with it even though coyotes are part of the dog family and Americans consider their dogs family members.

That attitude that coyotes are damaging makes it acceptable for companies like Canada Goose to exploit coyotes for outerwear. Last spring the company announced that starting in 2022, it will no longer buy new fur from trappers and instead will use reclaimed fur. While this unapologetic commitment to fur will never result in any meaningful protection of coyotes, 2020 has provided some reprieve.

Oregon became the first state in the nation to outlaw M-44s, aka cyanide bombs, which are planted by Wildlife Services at the meat industry’s behest to kill wildlife it deems as threats to doomed cattle and sheep. The legislation went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. A few months later, an Idaho court banned the use of M-44s until an analysis on the environmental impacts is completed by the agency following a lawsuit by conservation groups.M-44 devices are spring-activated sodium cyanide ejectors—coated with a substance to attract unsuspecting carnivores—that indiscriminately deliver a deadly dose of the poison when an animal pulls up on it.

They are still being used for predator control in Nevada, Utah, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as on private lands in Colorado and Wyoming. In 2019, Wildlife Services slaughtered a mind-blowing 62,002 coyotes, of which approximately 7,443 were killed by M-44s, up from 5,608 in 2018.



The Oregon victory came after Oregonbased Predator Defense—along with 100 victims/survivors, physicians, veterinarians and scientists—petitioned wildlife directors to address the public safety issue of M-44s in September of 2018. The request included the federal government’s official body count of close to 2,000 domestic dog deaths between 1997- 2016 from M-44s and detailed more than 60 specific incidents of human and pet poisonings since 1990.

In 2017, for example, 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield was walking his 3-year-old Labrador, Kasey, just south of his family’s home near Pocatello, Idaho, and accidentally triggered an M-44. Kasey died in front of him, and Mansfield experienced symptoms of cyanide poisoning for weeks. In August 2020, the U.S. government agreed to pay the Mansfields $38,500 and admit it was negligent.

Around the same time of that incident, a protected wolf in northeast Oregon was also killed by an M-44. Outraged by what happened to Canyon, Congressman Peter Defazio of Oregon introduced the Chemical Poisons Reduction Act of 2017 or “Canyon’s Law,” which would make M-44s illegal in the U.S. It is slated to be reintroduced in 2021, and Friends of Animals will be asking our members to help get it passed.

“With every campaign, there is a tipping point, and the Mansfield case is the tipping point for M-44s. The writing is on the wall,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, pointing out that the Mansfields live not far from where M-44s are manufactured.



The truth is the M-44 is just one way Wildlife Services obliterates animals for the meat industry, but the public safety issue surrounding its actions is shedding light on all the agency’s evil ways. And members of the public and legislators are questioning its very existence.

Why should taxpayers, particularly in tough times, pay to subsidize private interests?” DeFazio told the LA Times. “I have come to the conclusion that this is an agency whose time has passed.”

Friends of Animals could not agree more.

The federal budget for Wildlife Services in 2018 was $79,964,565 and the agency received an additional $56,186,683 from individuals, agencies, organizations and others that it delivers services to. Adding insult to taxpayers is the fact that ranchers also get reimbursed for livestock deaths cause by adverse weather or attacks by animals. Meanwhile, livestock losses to predation are extraordinarily low.

According to the USDA, in 2015, less than 1 percent of the U.S. cattle and sheep were lost to all carnivores combined. Losses are predominantly due to weather and birthing issues, according to Fahy. That is why it is sickening that in 2019, Wildlife Services killed more than two million animals, including 1.2 million native wildlife species and these vital predators: 800 bobcats, 308 mountain lions (cougars), 400 black bears and 302 gray wolves.

The irony of the ongoing persecution of coyotes is that the best available science shows that killing coyotes stimulates increases in their populations by disrupting their social structure, which encourages more breeding and migration. It can even increase predation on livestock. Normally, coyote populations are self-regulating based on the availability of food and habitat and territorial defense by resident family groups.

Coyotes contribute to healthy ecosystems—predation is an essential component of biodiversity—which is why Friends of Animals will continue working to get people to care about coyotes. Education and modifying human behavior is key to protecting pets and preventing conflicts with coyotes in urban, suburban or rural environments. Fahy believes people would be surprised by the monogamy of coyotes and how family-oriented they are, as well as their athleticism for their size.

“I’ve found them to be such wondrous creatures,” Fahy said.

He took the words right out of my mouth.

Nicole Rivard is editor of Friends of Animal’s quarterly magazine Action Line. She brings 18 years of journalism experience to the front lines, protesting and documenting atrocities against animals.