ANNAPOLIS – No one knows how many coyotes have come to Maryland in recent decades, but Lee McDaniel is afraid they’re here to stay.
“There’s a considerable group of them around” his Harford County farm, where he said coyotes have killed at least two sheep and chased a steer to exhaustion.
“We’ve had people that were raising sheep but stopped raising them because there were too many losses,” he said.
Farmers across the state are urging Maryland lawmakers to extend a 1995 law, set to expire this year, that allows hunting of coyotes.
But animal rights groups argue that coyotes have a place in Maryland’s ecosystem and say the state might even benefit from more of them.
“We’re always complaining that nature is out of balance because we’ve done away with all the predators,” said Diane Nixon, director of Maryland Legislation for Animal Welfare. “Now here we have an animal that’s a predator to rodents and animals that might be considered nuisance animals.”
People complain that there are too many deer in the state “and yet they want to do away with the only predator of deer other than man,” said Nixon.
“I don’t think there are enough coyotes,” she said.
Robert Colona, furbearer project manager for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, said “our objective is not to eliminate coyotes.” He said the department only wants to manage the population.
He noted that coyotes have survived worse onslaughts than recreational hunting.
“They’re a very resilient species,” he said. “Since the colonization of the West, people have tried to exterminate them. Coyotes have expanded their range eastward” as a result, he said.
Department spokeswoman Liz Kalinowski said no one knows for sure how many coyotes are in the state or what effect they might have. But they could cause trouble for other animals, she said.
“We have native species that occupy habitats now in our state that are similar to those that are occupied by coyotes,” she said, such as the red fox, a less-fierce predator that hunts smaller animals.
“In other states where this has occurred … (coyotes) run them out,” she said.
“The bottom line is that the coyotes are here now. We accept that they will be a part of our fauna,” she said.
The state in 1995 allowed coyotes to be hunted and trapped for three years. Bills moving through both the House and Senate would extend the hunting of coyotes for several more years, and farmers across the state have lined up in support.
“An abundance of sheep have been killed by coyotes,” said Del. James Harkins, R-Harford, sponsor of a bill that would extend the hunting deadline until 2001.
The Senate version of the bill would extend coyote-hunting until 2000 and require that the department report annually on the number and range of coyote populations in the state.
Nixon said state law already lets farmers kill any animal that attacks livestock, so the bill is only “an incentive for people to go out and kill coyotes.”
“The only purpose … is to create a market for the fur,” she said.
But to advocates of the bill, that’s exactly the point.
“By the time you find out they’re a nuisance, they’ve already killed some of the farm animals,” said Valerie Connelly, a Maryland Farm Bureau lobbyist.
Allowing more coyote hunting would “bring in as many people to help solve the problem as possible,” she said.
And McDaniel, the Harford farmer, insists coyotes are a problem.
“Livestock is our product,” he said. “If we lose a calf from a coyote, that cow only produces one calf per year, so you lose your whole product for a year’s work.”