Coyote-hunting an Ontario tourist attraction?
The Windsor-Essex region’s coyote population grew so big and so fast in 10 years that the local tourism agency began touting hunting the predator as an attraction two years ago.
“The Essex County region is one of the last homes for the ‘true coyote’ found in Ontario,” reads a promotional posting on the Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island website.
“The coyote population is extremely large and expanding in the area. Great predator-hunting opportunities exist throughout the county. Hunters have taken as many as 50 in an area no larger than three square miles in the Kingsville zone.”
Brent Patterson, a field research scientist who specializes in coyotes for Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources, said the coyote population steadily increased between 2000 and 2011, the year it peaked and the last year for which numbers are available.
That’s also the year the tourism board took the advice of a consultant and on its website’s outdoor section highlighted Essex County’s bountiful coyote population.
However, Kris Racine, the agency’s director of product development and marketing, said other than the annual pheasant hunt on Pelee Island, staff doesn’t “actively promote” the sport of hunting.
“Do we promote it? No. It’s only on our website,” Racine said. “You could argue we promote it, because it’s on our website, but we don’t actively promote it. We don’t go out and encourage shooting.
Population ‘out of control’
“We do understand there is an influx of coyotes everywhere,” Racine said.
The president of the Essex County Field Naturalists’ Club doesn’t agree with promoting coyote-hunting as an attraction, even latently.
“This is promoting hunting as a recreation because the population is too high. I have mixed feeling about that,” Phil Roberts said. “Recreational sports and hunting opportunities are considered recreational tourism, which is good for tourism and economy. This coyote thing is non-scientific.”
There are no hard numbers on how many coyotes are in the area, but the Ministry of Natural Resources agrees it’s increased since 2000.
There is no closed season on hunting coyotes in Ontario, and there is no bag limit. Pelts sell for approximately $35, Patterson said.
Long-time hunter Chris Durocher, who called the southern Ontario coyote population “out of control,” isn’t sure coyote-hunting would be a tourist draw.
“It’s not like deer-hunting. Everyone has coyotes. You don’t have to come here. If you can hunt in your area, you can hunt coyotes,” Durocher said. “I wouldn’t say you’d get Americans to come here. Some of the best coyote-hunting is in Texas and Colorado. It’s endless there.”
Racine said the online promotion has so far done little to increase outdoor tourism in the region.
However, several local hunters CBC News spoke with complained about the growing number of coyotes in southern Ontario. The predators frequently scare off deer or eat small game, such as cottontail rabbits. Both are hunted for sport in southern Ontario.
“You see them everywhere,” said hunter Tom Kondratowicz. “I have a spot where I was hunting deer and three different times I was set up for deer and coyotes came running out of the bush. The deer just scattered.”
John Jones hunts rabbits. He said coyotes make hunting rabbits more difficult. They force the rabbits to sit tight and hide better than ever before.
“You see tracks in every field,” Jones said of coyotes.
Durocher said the coyote population has ballooned.
“When I was eight years old, to see a coyote was unbelievable,” Durocher said. “To see a coyote was amazing. Now, the foxes are gone and the jack rabbits are struggling and all you see are coyotes. It’s definitely growing.”
Durocher said as the number of coyotes grow, so does the number of hunters.
But the animal proves to be a challenge for hunters.
Patterson said spotting a coyote is not difficult, but hunting them is.
“They’re very intelligent and wary. Once they receive a little hunting pressure, they become difficult to fool,” Patterson said.
“They have good eyes, ears and nose and they’re always on the lookout,” Jones said.
Typically, coyotes eat mice, rabbits and moles in the winter, Patterson said. They eat fallen fruit in the summer.
However, for the last few years, Ontario farmers have complained the predators have slaughtered sheep and other livestock.
They have also found their way into urban areas, where they rummage through garbage and kill pets.
Last year, a young coyote was found hiding in the foyer of a downtown Windsor business.
Last week, Essex County OPP were called to the Ministry of Transportation inspection station on Highway 401 to chase away coyotes that refused to leave.
In 2012, the Essex County OPP had 596 calls regarding animals — eight of them for coyotes. This year, the department has already responded to a pair of coyote calls.
Two years ago, the Osgoode Township Fish, Game and Conservation Club, near Ottawa sponsored the “Great Coyote Cull Contest.” That same year, two men in Cornwall, Ont., organized a competition to kill coyotes in the Cornwall area.
Scott Smithers, a Kemptville District Area biologist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, told CBC News at that time that indiscriminate killing of the predators will ultimately backfire.
“As you remove coyotes from the landscape, they actually will increase their birth rates,” said Smithers.
Coyotes have one litter of five to nine pups per year.
Patterson said coyotes have very few, if any, natural predators in Ontario. Not even hunting can curb their population.
“Coyotes are hunted fairly heavily in parts of the province. But there is little evidence that shows humans drive changes in the number of coyotes. Even though there are groups of hunters moving coyotes from some areas. That intense effort is never applied broadly across the entire landscape.
“There’s only as many coyotes on the landscape as there is food to support.
“It’s a matter of perspective as to whether how many coyotes is enough or if there’s an overabundance.”