Town hall meeting set for coyote lottery

A public town hall meeting has been scheduled next month to discuss a possible private coyote lottery for Shenandoah County.

County Board of Supervisors members Marsha Shruntz and Cindy Bailey organized the Feb. 7 meeting along with Fort Valley resident Larry Snyder.

The idea for the lottery stems from a 1,100-plus-signature petition Snyder presented to the Board of Supervisors chairman David Ferguson in 2013 along with a requested meeting with the board about a possible bounty.

Ferguson said the board contacted wildlife experts from the Virginia Cooperative Extension as well as the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for a meeting to “discuss coyotes and whether or not bounties work.”

But Snyder said, “That’s not what I asked for.”

He said he approached the board one more time in October 2013 and that Ferguson never told him “why or if he would ever hold a meeting.”

Ferguson said the consensus from the meeting with wildlife officials was that bounty programs do not work and that the board is not considering a bounty for Shenandoah County.

Snyder said that many “concerned citizens” have contacted him, telling him “We need to do something” about coyotes. Shruntz was among those who reached out.

This program or club would differ from the county-operated bounty system that Warren County has maintained for almost 15 years.

“Everything about this [lottery] is private,” Shruntz said, adding “Forget about the state, forget about the Feds and forget about the county.”

Shruntz and Snyder said the program is “in the early planning stages,” with an immediate goal of garnering public support and avoiding the use of taxpayer dollars.

Money from private donations would be kept in a bank account and, Shruntz said, the “grand-prize money would go to the person with the most coyotes taken.”

The subject of county-sanctioned bounties and private lotteries to eliminate or reduce coyote numbers has been the subject of widespread concern across the country.

To some, these programs help protect against loss of livestock; others see them as a means of preventing decreases in deer population.

Both Shruntz and Snyder have mentioned decreasing deer populations when discussing the lottery system.

James Parkhurst, associate professor of wildlife at Virginia Tech and wildlife extension specialist with the Virginia that Cooperative Extension, attended the 2013 meeting with the supervisors.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that coyotes are contributing to mortality in deer,” Parkhurst said, “When a new predator shows up on the landscape … it can only add to the pressure that is being placed on that resource.”

Parkhurst said the extent of this impact is unclear because, based on preliminary data from an ongoing research study of coyote eating habits, they appear to be consuming deer “year round.”

In addition, Parkhurst explained that there are many factors – including diseases and impacts with vehicles – that contribute to decreases in deer population.

For wildlife researchers and biologists, the presence of coyotes in Virginia is a massively complicated issue with many implications and no simple solutions.

Mike Fies, wildlife research biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, also attended the 2013 meeting and said they “strongly oppose” bounty systems due to their ineffectiveness.

“They have a 150-plus-year record of total failure with regards to reducing coyote numbers at any kind of a landscape level,” Fies said.

The problem with trying to eliminate coyotes is that “they have the ability to increase litter size if the population is being threatened,” said Corey Childs, Virginia Cooperative Extension livestock agent.

Fies said this capacity is referred to as “density-dependent reproduction.”

In order to have a “noticeable impact on a coyote population,” Parkhurst said that a reduction rate of “about 65 percent” is required for the fall coyote population every year.

A bounty program, Parkhurst noted, is not going to be effective in accomplishing this and that current methods are only working at rates of about 5 or 10 percent.

“Lotteries are basically going to be no different,” he said, “You’re never going to be able to exert enough pressure in the places where control is needed.”

According to www.BornFreeUSA.org, Virginia is one of the few states in the country that has legislation specifically geared toward coyote bounties. Fourteen states in the U.S. have no laws governing bounty or lottery programs.

At the moment, Virginia has no laws or regulations governing lottery systems.

A Dec. 2, 2014 Associated Press article reported that California has passed legislation becoming the first state to place an outright ban on all bounty programs, lotteries or “killing contests.”

Laws such as this are something that national California-based wildlife advocacy group Project Coyote is fighting for nationwide.

Becky Pomponio, the Florida and Virginia Representative for Project Coyote, said that bounty programs and hunting contests are not a wise use of funds.

“Even if we are talking about private funds, what a waste of money,” Pomponio said, adding, “These funds would be much better spent putting them in a pot and educating our farmers on how to use non-lethal methods.”

Such methods, Pomponio said, include using guard animals like llamas, donkeys and certain breeds of dogs as well as enhanced fencing.

According to Childs, a bounty is one tool that, alongside the above methods, can be used by farmers to help reduce coyote risk.

“If you incorporate several different management techniques as a producer, you are going to, in some cases, cause them to go to an area of lesser-resistance,” Childs added.

The Virginia Cooperative Coyote Damage Control, a program offered through the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, uses techniques like the ones above.

Chad Fox, western district supervisor for the United State Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, said, “We work with farmers that are losing livestock to coyotes to prevent it or stop it.”

For the most part, Fox said, they encourage and educate farmers to use these nonlethal methods, but will, if needed, “remove problem coyotes.”

Fox said that nonlethal methods and targeted approaches such as this have been proven to “work very well” to prevent livestock predation from coyotes.

Shruntz mentioned a call from a nearby farmer she received in October of 2014. The resident claimed he had lost two calves due to coyotes. According to Shruntz, the cost of losing calves to coyotes can be costly.

Ferguson said that, back in 2013, the county weighed the expert’s input against the number of reported livestock kills. “It hasn’t been enough that would lead you to believe we have a serious problem with coyotes.”

The USDA’s program was recently recognized by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation as being important to farmers. According to the Farm Bureau, there were 285 sheep, 81 calves and 32 goats killed by coyotes in the state during the 2014 fiscal year.

Fox noted that this program reaches around 200 farms and has been successful at keeping livestock kills down.

Using sheep as an example, Fox explained, “When the program was started [in 1990], the average losses was around 16 sheep per farm … in recent years, we have been able to keep that number under 5.”

Even with that success, Fox, Parkhurst and other experts have said that coyotes are “here to stay” and that conflicts between humans and coyotes will never disappear.

Knowing how to work on those problems, Parkhurst said, and not worrying “about the [coyotes] out in the woods minding their own business … that’s how we can get to a point of coexistence.”

For Shruntz, implementing a lottery to deal with coyotes “would be appropriate.”

“Anything that comes along and leaves nothing but bones in two calves … I think the problem needs to be addressed,” she said.

With the upcoming meeting, Shruntz said, “I’m trying to put two and two together here, with Mr. Snyder’s signatures and efforts that were denied … and the call that I had in October.”

The town hall meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Woodstock Municipal Building.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com