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Eastern Coyote - An Interview with Jonathan Cormier

In recent years, as we’ve seen the whitetail deer population diminish in New Brunswick, there have been many reason given for the decline. One major strike against the cervids that they didn’t have to deal with before our generation, is the influx of the Eastern Coyotes into our area.  Speak to any outdoorsperson who remembers hunting in New Brunswick prior to the 1970’s, and they can usually recall a time “before” coyotes were a fixture in this province.  Grizzled snowmobilers tell stories of those early years when we had many deer and coyotes came to town, leaving large red patches of snow in their wake.  To say they’ve had an impact would be a gross understatement. 

As hunters and fishers in present day New Brunswick, hearing and seeing coyotes is a fact of life and regular occurrence.  However, most of us don’t know a lot about these voracious predators.  With that in mind, Wilderness Obsession reached out to Jonathan Cormier to learn what we could about Coyotes and their present situation in New Brunswick.

Wilderness Obsession:  Can you tell us a bit about yourself?  Please give us an introduction of who you are and what you do at DNR, as well as your expertise in the field of Eastern Coyotes or Furbearers in general (This will likely be added to the article itself rather than as part of the Q&A).

Jonathan Cormier: I am the Furbearer Management Biologist for the New Brunswick Department of Energy and Resource Development.  I have been in this position for 4 years.   I have been working for NBDNR in various roles since 2006.  I hold a BSc. in Biology and a BSc. in Forestry and Environmental Management from UNB Fredericton as well as a GIS analyst Diploma from NBCC Moncton.

Wilderness Obsession:  A great deal has recently been written on the eastern coyotes being a mixture of coyotes and wolves. Does DNR ascribe to this theory and why or why not?  

Jonathan Cormier: DNR does recognize that the eastern coyote does share some genetic material with the eastern wolf.

Wilderness Obsession:  Recently, you were quotes as saying there are between 15,000 and 25,000 Coyotes in the province.  How is this number established?  

Jonathan Cormier: I am glad you asked this question.  I miss-spoke during an earlier interview when quoting the estimated population size in the province.  A more accurate range would be between 10,000 and 15,000 animals.  The Department does not actively perform coyote population surveys as is done for deer and moose population estimates.  This range is just an estimate based on the available habitat in NB and the annual harvest of coyotes.  This population estimate has a very broad range and is akin to estimating the population of New Brunswick at between 600,000 and 900,000 people.

Wilderness Obsession:  Although there appear to be records of coyotes appearing in NB many years ago, it seems they really took up residence somewhere in the mid to late 1970s. Can you speak to their emergence and what some of the factors that may have led to their establishment might have been?

Jonathan Cormier: I believe the factors that allowed the eastern coyote to take up residence in NB is their opportunistic behavior and its ability to adapt to its surroundings along with the absence of a stronger, larger predator.

Wilderness Obsession:  There are other neighboring provinces currently offering a bounty on coyote harvests. Do you believe these to be effective at reducing their population and would this be something NB might try?  Along the same lines, the saying around the campfire is that the more coyotes you shoot, the more prolifically they reproduce.  Is there any truth to that? 

Jonathan Cormier: New Brunswick has consistently viewed bounties as an ineffective control mechanism.  Bounties only work if there is a significant increase in harvesting pressure on the targeted species over an extremely long period of time and over a large area.  This is not a wise use of public funds.  Once the harvest pressure is relaxed the population will rebound quite quickly.  It is believed eastern coyotes exhibit what is known as compensatory reproduction.  As the harvest increases and more individuals are removed from the population, it is believed the females are able to produce larger litters due to the greater availability of food from fewer individuals exploiting the food source.  As most of your New Brunswick readers know New Brunswick does allow year-round hunting of coyotes with the proper licenses (except during moose season) and has a 5 month coyote trapping season.

Wilderness Obsession:  How has the population of coyotes varied since their emergence in our province over the years? Are their numbers relatively stable?

Jonathan Cormier: If the annual reported coyote harvest, as compiled from export permits from fur traders, is indicative of the population trend of the eastern coyote in New Brunswick then one can say the coyote population increased until the late ‘90s or early 2000s but has stabilized since with natural fluctuations.  The Department runs winter track transect surveys each year which supports the population trend shown from the harvest figures.

Wilderness Obsession:  We assume the coyotes to be the apex predator in NB. Is this the case, and how does their presence influence the population of deer in the province? How about rabbits, grouse, or even Moose?

An Eastern Coyote feeding on a downed whitetail

Jonathan Cormier: It is known that coyotes prey on deer.  If you remove coyotes from the province then you are removing a source of mortality.  To what extent coyote predation affects the deer population is the unknown and I believe this would vary from year-to-year.    Just prior to coyotes moving into the province bobcat could have been considered the apex predator.  At that time bobcats preyed on deer and small game.  Once coyotes moved in they occupied a lot of the same niche as bobcats and were able to out-compete bobcats.  Since coyotes became established in NB the annual bobcat harvest has decreased.  As for moose, there have been a few reports in other jurisdictions of coyote predation on moose but it is not believed to be a significant cause of mortality in a moose population. 

Wilderness Obsession:  We have heard that a hard winter with deep snow affects the coyote population far more negatively than deer or moose. Is this actually the case and can you give us reasons why? 

Jonathan Cormier: Deer and moose legs are longer than coyote legs, so if the snow is deep and “fluffy” then deer will have an easier time moving through the snow.  If there is a lot of moisture in the snow or a hard crust on top of it deer will have a hard time moving through it and coyotes will be able to travel quite easily on top of it.  Either way a long hard winter with deep snow is hard on most wild animals, us included.  The department does not have any existing data to quantify how hard a winter has been on coyotes compared to deer.

Wilderness Obsession:  We dug up a publication from the DNR website that states coyotes may be hunted without a license if they are deemed to be a nuisance in someone's property. Is this still the case and how might that be established? 

Jonathan Cormier: Section 34(4) of the Fish & Wildlife Act authorizes the owner or occupant of private land or their designate to hunt (except at night), trap, snare, remove or relocate those species of native wildlife listed in section 34(5), which includes coyotes, providing the animal is posing a risk to personal injury or causing damage to private property.

Wilderness Obsession:  After having seen a drop of over 50% in the deer harvest since 2013, how much of that impact might be related to coyotes whether it is just them chasing and using their fat stores quicker or actually catching and killing them? Does the department have a position on how many deer deaths might be caused by coyotes annually or how much of their diet might be made up of whitetail deer?  Recently an article in a New Brunswick paper said that killing one coyote saves the lives of 3 deer.  Is that accurate?

Jonathan Cormier: I am not sure where that number comes from.  There is no doubt that coyotes prey on deer.  How many they prey on each year or over their lifetime is the unknown.  I believe this number fluctuates from year-to-year depending on the abundance of other prey species and winter conditions.  I also believe that if you remove all the deer from the province coyotes will not disappear, they will adapt.  On a side-note, if all motor vehicles were removed from New Brunswick highways, the lives of approximately 3000 deer would have been saved last year.

Wilderness Obsession:  This might be a bit of an off-the-wall question but it is something we have heard quoted through the years from a number of different sources. Knowing that the department has been involved in species introductions before (bass, geese, even whitetail), was there any involvement by DNR in the introduction of coyotes to our region?
Jonathan Cormier: No

We appreciate Jonathan’s time and hope that it was as enlightening for you as it was for us.  As always, we hope this encourages discussion.  Are you a coyote hunter?  Varmint Season officially kicked off on March 1st, and now’s the time to get out there!

2017-03-05 09:52:56

 

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