While whitetails continue to thrive and overpopulate much of North America, mule deer, those majestic, antlered icons of the West, have fallen on hard times. Numbers are falling. Utah hunters tagged 85,000 mule deer in 1983, but just 19,000 last year.
Biologists and hunters struggle to assign blame. Certainly habitat is being lost to human developments such as housing, highways, resorts, farming, ranching and energy development. Invasive weeds like cheatgrass and cedars take some of the heat, too. Even an increase in elk in places has been blamed for declines in mule deer.
And then there are the predators.
Since the last wolves in the lower 48 were killed in the 1930s, biologists have been steadily educating the rest of us that predator control really isn’t the key to healthier big game numbers. Yet small test studies in which overly abundant coyotes were trimmed have show significant increases in fawn survival. Would this work on a large scale?
We’re about to find out.
Utah’s governor has signed two pieces of legislation that will raise $500,000 from a $5 increase in hunting licenses and $750,000 from general sales tax revenue. The money will be paid to hunters to the tune of $50 per coyote bountied to the state. According to Utah Sportsmen For Wildlife President Byron Bateman, Utah’s deer numbers “…are dwindling despite tens of millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours to protect winter habitat, fence highways and improve conditions for Utah’s deer.”
So now a fairly intensive effort to control coyote numbers will be tried. Traditional wisdom holds that bounties on predators are a waste of money, so it will be interesting to see the effect of this program. The coyote control program will be centered around rural, private contractors who will be compensated on performance-based programs.
I, for one, can’t wait to see the results.
# # #