Black Helicopters and 18-Wheelers, or Manifest Destiny?
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., Feb. 18, 2006.)
No black helicopters. No 18-wheelers unloading coyotes on timber company land. No auto insurance companies conspiring to reduce the deer population. Nobody's wife's co-worker's brother-in-law's neighbor shot a coyote with an ear-tag or a tattoo disclosing the coyote's origin from a breeder or trapper in Montana or Wyoming. None of this has happened. To anyone who says otherwise, I say "Show me!"
Among several explanations for how the coyote
arrived in Penn's woods, the most difficult to
believe is that the Game Commission, or the timber
industry, or insurance companies stocked them.
But if coyotes were not stocked in Pennsylvania, where did they come from? In an October, 2005 column I promised to answer that question.
Coyotes now reside in every state except Hawaii. To anyone claiming that coyotes were stocked in Pennsylvania, I ask "Who stocked them in Ohio, New York, Michigan, Virginia, Maine, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alaska? Coyotes now live in every state and Canadian province. How did they get there?"
It is documented that coyotes populated Alaska when men chased gold there in the late nineteenth century. One historian says that coyotes "followed the trail of dead horses" to Alaska, scavenging what man left in his wake as he blazed a gold-fever trail to the Yukon. No one in Alaska claims anything else, and no one accuses the Alaska Department of Fish and Game of a secret coyote stocking program.
I've been asked, "Back when you began hunting, did old-timers ever talk about coyotes?" The answer is no, but that does not mean that coyotes did not exist in Pennsylvania. In fact, they have existed in Pennsylvania for more than 65 years, and the proof is in the pictures published in the March 1941 issue of Pennsylvania Game News. In January of that year hunters in Venango County killed several after discovering them during the 1940 deer season.
No one knows when the first coyote arrived in Pennsylvania. One theory is that they have always been here -- that the wolves we had in colonial days were "brush wolves" or coyotes that were never completely extirpated, and that they have made a comeback from a few remaining isolated pockets.
Others believe that the timber wolves of early Pennsylvania were eliminated, opening the door for the smaller canine cousin. Coyotes were occasionally brought into southern states as a target animal for hunters using foxhounds. Perhaps the few that weren't killed in the chase established populations in other states east of the Mississippi. Others possibly walked across the Mississippi on bridges to states east of the great river.
But the best explanation for the origins of the eastern coyote, the subspecies that inhabits Pennsylvania, is found in the research of Gerry Parker, a wildlife biologist from Nova Scotia, in his book, "Eastern Coyote: The Story of Its Success".
According to Parker, coyotes were a western resident at the time Europeans began to colonize North America. As civilization moved westward, coyotes spread eastward and northward. As man reduced or eliminated wolves and mountain lions, he creating a niche for a large canine predator that could live in an uneasy harmony with man.
Parker shows through historical and scientific research that coyotes moved from upper midwestern states across the Canadian border. He compiled records of sightings and killings that shows a gradual expansion north of the Great Lakes, eastward into the Maritime Provinces, and down into New England and the eastern United States.
Parker also notes that the eastern coyote is larger than its western cousin, and theorizes that the early migrants into Canada had difficulty finding mates. Consequently they took opportunities to interbreed with wolves, resulting in a larger, more vigorous strain than was known in the American west. The theory of interbreeding has been buttressed through DNA studies. Perhaps also the coyote of the east is larger because it is better nourished, finding eastern prey animals in greater abundance.
No one should think that wildlife exists in a static environment. Animal populations of all species rise and fall with food supplies. Changes in habitat are another external factor that helps determine the ability of animals to populate an area. And for almost all animals we have today, one key to survival is adapting to the presence of man.
Thus among several explanations for how the coyote arrived in Penn's woods, the most difficult to believe is that the Game Commission, or the timber industry, or insurance companies stocked them. No evidence for that exists, but plenty of evidence exists that coyotes found their own way here. The term "manifest destiny" has been used as an explanation for man's persistent and thorough impact on the entire North American landscape. The same term can be applied to our canine cohabitant, the prolific song dog we call the coyote.