ANNAPOLIS – A new predator is creating a nuisance for Maryland’s farmers and trappers.
The coyote, an animal foreign to the Eastern United States until about 85 years ago, is invading Maryland – and damaging livestock and wildlife.
A bill before the House Environmental Matters Committee would help manage the growing population by legalizing the hunting and trapping of coyotes in Maryland. There is currently no state law affecting this canine.
The bill would establish a coyote season and allow people to hunt or trap a coyote on their land if it was damaging or destroying their property.
While coyotes eat almost anything, their usual fare includes rabbits, rodents, birds and other small animals.
“They are particularly fond of house cats and small dogs, and will aggressively pursue pets,” Peter Jayne, habitat program manager for the Department of Natural Resources, said.
Although they are not a threat to humans, coyotes occasionally steal sheep, chicken and goats.
Pete Leggett, a farmer and trapper in Washington County said, “Our biggest concern is our domestic livestock and wildlife. With this bill we’d have a chance to legally protect them.”
Leggett, who has farmed in Boonsboro for 48 years, has lost no animals, but knows local farmers who have. He said coyotes became a problem slowly over the past 10 to 15 years, and more quickly recently.
“They’re the predator of all predators in this area,” devastating some wildlife, especially red foxes, he said.
Ron Leggett, Pete Leggett’s son, said the bill’s trapping provision would especially help. “Traps are the most effective, economic and efficient way to regulate the species,” he said.
The bill is opposed by the Humane Society of the United States, the Maryland League for Animal Welfare and the Western Maryland Sportsman’s Club. All three groups oppose trapping the animals.
The coyote population in the Eastern United States has increased by 250 percent in the last 100 years, Jayne said.
There have been two migrations of coyotes into the region, from the north and south. Maryland and Delaware are the last states in the continental United States to have coyotes take up residence, Jayne said.
The DNR estimates there are 280 coyotes in Maryland, based on spottings over the last 11 years in 19 of the states’s 23 counties, particularly in counties bordering Pennsylvania. At the turn of the century, coyotes were found only west of the Mississippi River. They spread east as forests were cleared for agriculture and development. Their numbers also increased as the population of wolves, their natural competitors, dwindled. -30-