Why Hunting Coyotes in New Jersey is a Bad Idea

Bravo New Jersey! Let’s give the hunters a special permit to shoot coyotes and take away one of the only checks on the huge deer population which is currently destroying our forests. I live in Chester, NJ, right among the woods and fields. In four years here, I have only seen two coyotes near my property–and they didn’t come to eat my children, but to kill a fawn at a time when they were probably looking to feed their pups. Without coyotes, look for our New Jersey forests to continue to degrade, for our quality of life to continue to decline, and for our exposure to Lyme ticks to continue to rise. You go, New Jersey!

A recent article on New Jersey.com quoted one hunter, eager to start shooting coyotes, as saying, “Coyotes have one of the most ugly calls you’ll ever hear. It sounds like something that’s dying and laughing at the same time.”

(http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/12/new_jersey_coyotes.html )

I disagree and think most people in America would, too. Coyotes have a beautiful call—a series of yaps and howls, often ending with a breathtakingly impressive final note. But I won’t blabber my opinion to sell newspapers and get my way—I will give you proof. Read my poem about coyotes right here in Northern New Jersey and listen to the coyotes which I tape-recorded in the spruce stand behind my cottage (see my recent WordPress post, “My First Yawp”–on the sidebar–11/27/11).

I think you will agree that their call is a welcome bit of the wild in a state known for its sprawl and turnpike odors.

A few years ago, I read of the resignation of one of New Jersey’s top conservation officials in a major state paper. In the article, he complained he was leaving to take a post down south—that New Jersey’s forests were too far gone to help. With an understory depleted by a ravenous deer population, and invasive plant species (i.e., Japanese barberry) poised to pounce in this new-found space, he noted that New Jersey’s forests were indeed in trouble. This trend continues today. New Jersey’s deer populations are exploding and the shrapnel seems to be slicing off the understory of once plush woods. Making matters worse, white tail deer don’t seem to eat Japanese barberry. Now, NJ has announced that there will be a coyote hunt. Does anyone see a problem with the logic here?

However, before I tread any further, I want to share a quick story. One bright morning in the spring of 2009, I was getting dressed in my cottage and happened to be looking out the window; that is when I heard the bleating of a fawn—clearly distressed. What I observed next was macabre, eye-opening—and truly, the natural order of things. A coyote—moving like a whirlwind across my lawn—chased a fawn into the brush by the edge of the woods. The fawn then changed directions, cutting back across the lawn—but the coyote kept going straight ahead, diving into the forest. As the fawn ran under a walnut tree and up a hill toward the wood’s edge, a second coyote took up the pursuit, efficiently herding the terrified fawn into the waiting jaws of the original chaser. From my front steps, I watched the two coyotes rip and tear at this fawn, which in turn snapped at them as best it could (see my poem, below), until the coyotes grabbed at its neck, tore in guttural growls, and ended the fight. The mother doe watched the whole episode from my lawn—no more than ten feet from me—while the father buck tried valiantly to defend its fawn; the coyotes grew impatient and lunged at him—viciously—until he reluctantly backed away.

This fawn was healthy and fast—it was not a sick animal—and yet, the coyotes easily, “took him out.” It was a natural pruning of the population–and it was needed.

Now with our forests dying, we want to reduce the populations of the only major NJ predator of the white-tailed (or Virginia) deer! Hmm, how strong is our hunting lobby in New Jersey, anyway? They must be gargantuan! Yet, our forests are dying and I refuse to be a bystander while we help expedite this process by killing coyotes. According to Joan Ehrenfeld in a NY/NJ Trail Conference.Org, document:

“Our forests lack the seedling and sapling trees that
provide the forest with continuity and the ability
to recover from wind and ice, insects and pathogens.
And, because deer munch on herbs as well as woody
plants, they eat the native wildflowers as voraciously
as they do young trees and shrubs, greatly depleting their populations.”
(http://www.nynjtc.org/news/deer-impact-local-forests)

Of course, in college philosophy class, I remember the basic reasoning which our professors taught us in order to recognize an illogical argument—and conversely—to prove something to be true (of course, something that was not absurd). It went like this: “If A—then B. Okay—A—therefore, B!” So let’s look at it this way. If our forest understory is largely decimated because of deer overpopulation (A), then we shouldn’t kill their major natural predators (B). Clearly then, it can be shown that our forests are dying because deer populations are out of control—therefore—we shouldn’t be shooting coyotes.

It’s pretty simple to see. It also seems pretty simple to see that somebody is influencing the brainpower of our conservation and elected officials (no, that would never happen!). And if this is not the case, do we have incompetence in some of our conservation and elected officials? Is that possible? (both sarcasm and rhetoric, intended) This is not an accusation, but an assumption based on their actions.

Why in G-d’s holy world are we hunting coyotes? Have coyotes been attacking humans in New Jersey at record rates? Have people been dying in New Jersey from vicious attacks? Are coyotes roaming our streets in large packs, threatening our very livelihoods? And while there have been some attacks, given New Jersey’s population, they have been few and far between. So, the answer to my earlier questions of course has to be “no”—a resounding no, no, no, no, no!

However, if I throw the following questions out there, the answers from people who live in or near New Jersey’s parks and forests would all be clarion, “Yeses!” Are the deer overpopulated? Do we need more deer control—preferably, by their natural enemies? Is Lyme disease a major health problem in NJ and are deer a major carrier of this tick vector? Do coyotes improve your quality of life as they howl beautifully under the full moon—mixing their wildness with a full moon’s milky light?

New Jersey’s coyote hunt will have huge repercussions for our parks and forests in terms of understory depletion, will lessen our quality of life by taking away a bit of the wild right here among us, and quite possibly, will enable Lyme disease to continue to spread unchecked. Lyme disease is an expensive disease to fight (especially in advanced stages), and will eventually drive up the cost of healthcare for all New Jerseyans.

Perhaps New Jersey’s hunters should stick to shooting deer and not help New Jersey to shoot itself in its collective foot.

The hunter quoted at the top of this blog said that coyotes have an ugly howl, one that sounds both like dying and laughing at the same time. I will tell you what that noise might really be—the sound of our forests and coyotes dying away—and other states laughing at the inept management of our deer population and natural resources.

Peace!
Kerri

A Fawn’s Last Day in the Woods
© 2009, by Kerri McCaffrey

From my pretty yellow bedroom—
all fresh painted and sponged,
I heard you honking,
as you were separated from your parents—
in the morning’s wet woods.
Last night, I had been awakened by their
howling in the distant meadow
under the still clear skies,
and now at dawn, you were chosen.
They stalked on secret paws, then, lunged.
How your heart must have been beating
in this moment of Darwinian truth.
Eyes panicked, hoofs tearing wet turf, bleating—
cut and torn by brambles and blackberries,
sailing soft waves of fern—
then tackled
where you gave your feeble defense:
lifting up your head, nipping—
So you let off your last alarm,
sounding your sobbing pain,
as rapacious predators
cut and tore—
with guttural growling,
hungrily gripping your small frame—
pinning you,
as you bled in the berries.

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