Are coyotes keeping deer numbers low in state?

As deer numbers continue to be low on the vast public lands in
the state‘s northern tier, and even in many places south of
Interstate 80, hunters search for reasons why. They keep coming
back to coyotes.

Even though the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s deer biologists
have consistently claimed that coyote predation on fawns is not
increasing, according to their data, sportsmen remain skeptical.
And many also believe that a record number of black bears are
killing and eating many fawns.

It’s not that predation is not a factor, biologists have said –
a fawn in the state only has about a 50 percent chance to see its
first birthday — it’s just not getting worse, they contend. And
fawns reportedly do better in Pennsylvania than they do in many
other states.

Still, with coyote numbers seeming to be at a peak – their
presence is much more obvious across the state than in the past,
although biologists admit they don’t have any idea how many are out
there – and with the animals seeming to be bigger and more
wolf-like every year (50-pounders are now common), their impact on
deer numbers could be growing.

Other states seem to be taking coyote predation on deer fawns
more seriously. And recent research suggests that the implication
of coyote predation becomes more significant when deer numbers are
lower. Also, scientists now know that coyotes are able to kill more
fawns in the wide open understories of forests that have been
damaged by decades of deer overbrowsing.

A recent article published in the Journal Of Wildlife
Management, written by wildlife biologists from South Carolina and
Georgia, reports that where whitetail numbers are sharply declining
in places like the Southeast states and the Upper Peninsula of
Michigan, it is “coincident” with a corresponding increase in
coyotes.

The evidence “does not establish cause and effect between
coyotes and observed declines in deer recruitment,” the article
conceded, but they “present a convincing argument that
coyote-induced newborn fawn mortality is seriously lowering annual
deer-herd recruitment rates.”

If that is happening, the deer population models used in
Pennsylvania and across the East are invalid. And even though Game
Commission biologists still profess a lack of concern, their
deer-management strategies will have to be altered. To me, it’s
just a question of when.

 

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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