Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

The Wily Coyote

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 50-51.

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Few experiences in life compare with being sacked out in your bag, just after the sun gives way to the moon, and being surrounded by howling coyotes. Their a cappella yowls are songs, their barks sentences, if you take time to listen.

The coyote is no varmint. It is intelligent, social, cunning, opportunistic, adaptive, fun loving, and full of wonder. Native Americans grant coyote a special place in their lore, and for good reason. It is a species that can make humans wax poetic or evil.

There are at least nineteen subspecies of Canis latrans (Latin for "barking dog"). In Oregon, the two subspecies are C. l. lestes, which is larger and paler and occurs east of the Cascades, and C. l. umpquenisis, which is smaller and more richly colored and occurs west of the Cascades.

Coyote size varies with subspecies and habitat. The average weight is between 20 and 35 pounds. Their color varies as well. Usually silver or a grizzled gray, the color can change subtly in the summer to rufous.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent—and tens of millions still each year—to "control" the species. Hatred of the coyote has brought out both the irrational and inhumane sides of the human species.

It is irrational, because the coyote is one species that we can't control, let alone kill off. As a species, coyotes mock human extermination efforts. For example, in heavily "controlled" areas, coyote populations respond by doubling the size of their litters. Efforts at coyote control have led to the unnatural selection of a "supercoyote"—those that survived the onslaught know best how to keep out of harm's way. Sometimes life is fair.

It is inhumane because of the lengths humans go in futile attempts to control coyotes. The species is shot from the air, trapped, snared, gassed, drowned, poisoned, dynamited, strangled, and "denned" (the mother is tracked back to her den, and the puppies are killed). Many of these methods are harmful not only to coyotes, but to other wildlife species, domestic dogs, and humans as well ("collateral damage").

All of this is done in the name of protecting livestock that should not be on public lands at all, and which, when on private land, should he shepherded if left out at night.

Ironically, the more successful extermination of wolves, who prey on coyotes, is a major factor in the coyote explosion. As wolf numbers declined, coyote numbers increased.

It used to be common to see coyote bodies hung over fences by sharpshooting ranchers who wanted to send a message to other coyotes. Modern public relations concerns have dictated a change in the disposition of the bodies, not in the killing.

To behave this way toward a family-oriented species! Coyotes attempt to mate for life and have family units with brothers and sisters who help raise the young. Like many species, the babies are very cute.

In a time when most large predators are on the decline because of predation by the most powerful and meanest predator of them all—humans—coyotes have dramatically expanded both their range and numbers. Common in wilderness, they've also been spotted intermingling with Yellow Taxi Cabs in the Bronx and thinning the house-cat population of Los Angeles. A coyote was recently captured in the elevator of a downtown Seattle federal office building (one can only hope she was looking for the government trappers who "denned" her pups).

Coyotes rightfully fear humans. Humans should fear the coyote only for the irrational and inhumane ways it makes us behave.