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Concern over coyotes prompts Minn. bounty bill

January 26, 2010 at 03:11 PM

Minnesota Public Radio News

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. (AP) - In knee-deep snow on his cattle ranch near Montevideo, John Moon brushes new snow away from animal tracks he found near a grove of trees.

He finds what he’s looking for.

Moon points to a series of ragged holes the size of a dinner plate punched through the heavy snowpack and identifies them as coyote tracks. He says this coyote was going fast, bounding forward with all four paws landing in the same spot, an indicator that the coyote was chasing something.

Moon says he’s always watching for coyotes and has even seen them walk through his yard. But seeing the animals near people is far from his biggest concern. He believes coyotes are costing him money and he shoots any coyote he sees bothering his cattle.

A short distance from the set of tracks, Moon stops his pickup truck and points to a patch of willow trees.

“We had a cow in here one time that had a calf. And I found the afterbirth a little later on and then there was no calf,” says Moon. “But then I did find the hide just about 100 yards to the east here.”

Moon says he can’t prove coyotes killed the animal, but he strongly suspects that’s the case. He’s had other calves disappear too and it’s a big economic issue for him, since full-grown cattle are worth more than $1,000 apiece.

Neighbors report dogs and cats have disappeared, and they also suspect coyotes. Moon says he knows putting a price on dead coyotes, a bounty, will not eliminate what he sees as a growing problem. But he does think a bounty will attract more hunters and he says that should help reduce coyote numbers and his losses.

“More people would be out after them if there was a little bit of a reward,” says Moon.

That’s the philosophy behind a bill being introduced at the Legislature.

“It allows counties to establish bounty within the counties,” said state Rep. Lyle Koenen, who plans to introduce the bill. “And any county across the state will be able to do this.”

Koenen said it would be up to the individual county to run the program. That includes setting the price of the bounty and finding the money to pay it. Koenen said he doesn’t know what chance the legislation has of final passage.

Five years ago the house passed a similar bill, but it failed in a Senate committee. There are plenty of people though who are against paying a coyote bounty.

“Kind of a waste of money,” said Bill Berg, a retired DNR wildlife research biologist.

Berg said bounties have little impact on coyote numbers and that the state had a bounty system for most of its history. He still has reports which summarize bounty payments for predators including coyotes, timber wolves, bears and lynx. He said those reports show the number of animals turned in each year for bounties held relatively steady.

“You’d think if the bounty was effective and did its thing; gradually those predator numbers would be goi ng down and they just stayed the same,” Berg said.

Berg spent a good part of his career studying and teaching about coyotes. He even put on a performance for school kids he called “coyote man.” It taught children that predators like the coyote play an important role in nature. As part of the lecture, he wore a coyote hide and let loose with a well-rehearsed coyote howl.

Berg said historically, farmers and hunters alike lobbied the state to offer money for predators. The two groups wanted to protect livestock, as well as game animals like ducks, pheasants and deer.

“When the settlers came to Minnesota, there just was an aim to remove all of those evil predators,” he said. “Basically all predators were vermin until like into the ‘50s and ‘60s.”

Berg said the state ended all bounties in the mid 1960s.

But farmers like John Moon think there still is a role for a coyote bounty. Worried about economic losses, he keeps a close watch out for the predato r. He said a bounty would be one way to sharpen the focus of hunters who like to pursue the predator.

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