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Some people think America has a gun problem. Some other people think America needs more people roaming crowded city streets with AR-15s shooting at animals. What I’m saying is that there are two sides to this argument, both of them equally valid.
Just kidding! One of those sides is not in any way valid but they’re getting a fair portrayal in the New York Times because that’s what we do these days. The animal in question is the coyote, a distinctly American beast that has experienced a checkered history here. Coyotes have spread into more and more large American cities, like New York, Chicago, and even right here in San Francisco. They’re native to this area, but in the 1930s the US government set about extirpating them nationwide. They were seen as dangerous to humans and a nuisance that, like wolves (eradicated in the 1920s) hunted the same game humans were hunting. Neither of those was correct, but the US government devoted millions of dollars to destroying them before scientists had even studied them.
All the government’s efforts went to waste, though. In 2004 San Francisco officials spotted a coyote walking across the Golden Gate Bridge at night to sneak into the Presidio, and a decade later they’re in neighborhoods all over the city.
Now people are scared of them again, since they have occasionally killed cats and small dogs, and once 30 years ago a coyote apparently killed a 3-year old in LA. Hunters are jumping at the chance to “help” by asking for (and in many cities and suburbs getting) permission to gun down coyotes and sell their fur. One hunter interviewed by the Times offers tips on convincing homeowners to allow hunting in and around their property by “promising to hunt only at dawn or dusk to avoid cyclists and joggers, and when dealing with especially reluctant people, to offer to use a crossbow instead of a firearm.” As a cyclist and a jogger: WHAT THE FUCK do you think we only go for runs and rides during working hours? Jesus. And yes, this hunter uses an AR-15 assault rifle, when he’s not trying to win over reluctant homeowners with his crossbow.
Obviously it’s a terrible idea to let idiots wander city streets with assault rifles firing at any 30-pound quadriped they think they see — in fact, I’m much more worried about me, my dog, or a random cat being hurt or killed by a hunter than by a coyote, which are known to avoid humans whenever possible.
But there’s another reason to not let hunters “cull” coyotes and remove them from our cities: because biologists say it won’t work.
The US spent millions of dollars over a century and a half trying to exterminate coyotes, but today they inhabit three times as much land as they ever did before the program started. They used to be found only in the west, but now they exist coast to coast, and from Mexico all the way to Canada. That happened in part because first we killed their only other predator: wolves. But it also was spurred by our deathwish. Coyotes usually prefer to live in packs that are hierarchical, in which only the “alpha” male and female mate and produce offspring. But when they’re threatened, they split up into pairs, each of which can then mate and have offspring. Their howls inform them of how many other coyotes are out there, and if they don’t get enough of a response, they kick their mating into high gear. They breed at younger ages and their litter sizes double or even triple. Coyotes are a fascinating example of a species that adapts and not just survives, but thrives.
When the extirpation program unintentionally spurred their numbers and pushed the population across the country, coyotes even started breeding with the few remaining wolf species they started running into in the east. So now we also have “coywolves” running around, which is fucking amazing.
So not only will hunting the coyotes probably not help, it will probably make the situation worse, especially considering that when left alone, coyotes won’t overbreed — they will control their own population to lessen intra-species competition.
And in the meanwhile, the coyotes we so desperately want exterminated aren’t stealing our food or hunting our babies — they’re doing hardcore pest control, eating our rats and our mice, and even our feral cats. Yes, I love cats and don’t want to see them killed, but cats belong in the home where they are safe from cars and coyotes and budding psychopaths, and where they can be prevented from decimating our songbird population. Coyotes are in fact amazing animals that are a healthy, beneficial part of our ecosystem.
While I don’t mind that coyotes eat the occasional feral cat, I do mind that they eat the occasional family dog. And that’s why instead of killing coyotes, we just need to study them more and educate our society more. We need to know when and where they’re making dens (because they’ll be more aggressive toward humans who come near offspring), and we need to know where and when they’re active so that people can avoid allowing dogs off-leash near them.
Coyotes are everything that we want America to be about: clever, beautiful, and able to adapt and overcome extreme obstacles. Here’s hoping we stop idiot humans from basically making a non-problem into a huge problem.