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Holmes on the Range for NOVEMBER 27, 2008

The Coyote

by Nelson Holmes

HUERFANO- The coyote, in my unsolicited opinion, is the raucous poet laureate of the west.  Mad canid vocalizations that sound like maniacal laughter or plaintive wails that cause us to start as if hearing a child in distress; these are the notes of the prairie wolf.  Many an autumn evening has begun with the keening of Canis latrans causing me a moment’s shock that soon fades to a reverie of recognition.

    The coyote is one of the most adaptable and resilient characters on the continent.  It is estimated that the noble brush wolf exists today in greater numbers than he did when Columbus “discovered” the new world.  Maligned as an agricultural pest, and threat to “fluffy” in the suburbs, the coyote has responded to hunting, trapping, poison and sprawl by adapting to circumstances and thriving.  Studies have shown that, as a population faces increased hunting pressures, the reproductive efficiency of the pack increases.  In a prior existence, as a naturalist at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, it fell to me to try and educate suburban folk about the creatures their tract homes displaced.  Coyotes, unfortunately, were the “bogeydogs” that precipitated a primal fear in folks too far removed from the natural world.  They didn’t realize that coyotes are opportunistic omnivores who’ll pop over a fence for fallen fruit, the meal of a pet fed outside, or the pet itself.  In fact, depending on the resources available, the coyote’s diet may be 70-80% vegetable!  The coyote now ranges over most of North America and every year sees its territory expand.   The coyote’s numbers, were to some degree, kept in check by the wolf with whom it might compete and be preyed upon.  With the wolf displaced from its range by human ignorance, superstition and mismanagement the vacuum was filled by the smaller more versatile coyote.

    Coyotes are not large creatures and they range in weight between 17 and 50 pounds, with most coming in at the lower end of the scale.  These are social animals like their cousins the wolf and domestic dog, and highly intelligent.  Being opportunists they do impact ranchers by taking calves and lambs.  Studies have shown that it would be less expensive if the government paid for livestock loss rather than maintain costly, and ineffective, coyote eradication programs.  Though they may be a nuisance, the coyote is a natural check on populations of rodents and jackrabbits thus limiting the damage caused to pasture and grass land by cyclical explosions in these creature’s numbers.

    All in all, the coyote, no matter how widely the species roams, will always be, to me, an embodiment of the American West.  This noble creature, often slandered and abused, still sings a note that touches my heart more purely than the pretentious warble of my fellow man. 

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