With dramatic habitat changes, and with coyotes being an opportunistic predator, it should be expected that their population would increase.
Pennsylvania Game Commission is sometimes maligned and criticized, and the
coyote question is one of the perennial controversies. It shouldn’t be
controversial. It’s actually easy to explain.
|1938 Elk County. (Courtesy PA Game Commission)|
heard people say not only that the Game Commission stocked coyotes, but that
for decades it also denied evidence that coyotes were in the state. The facts
people take notice of this fact – the PGC actually publicized the existence of
coyotes within Pennsylvania’s borders, and did it consistently from the 1930s
to the present. The December 1938 issue of Pennsylvania
Game News, the agency’s official publication, showed a photograph of a live
coyote taken by a trapper in Elk County just north of Ridgway, PA. Initially,
the trapper thought it was a young timber wolf, but it was proven to be a
|1941 Venango County. (Courtesy PA Game Commission)|
March 1941, the Game News published
pictures of coyotes killed in Venango County during January of that year. A
group of hunters discovered them in deer season, and returned to hunt them in
January. One of them weighed 62 pounds.
|1946 Clearfield County. (Courtesy PA Game Commission)|
1946 a coyote was shot in Clearfield County – and for at least the third time in
eight years the PGC reported coyotes were living in the Keystone State.
|1976 Westmoreland County. (Courtesy Tim Flanigan ||)|
1963, the Game News carried a story
titled “Coyotes at the Edge of Philadelphia,” written by Joseph Lippincott of
the J. B. Lippincott Publishing Company. Lippincott was well experienced with
western coyotes, and saw his first Pennsylvania coyote in the winter of 1960.
Some assumed those animals to be coy-dogs, but if coy-dogs are around, a coyote
had to precede them.
1976, a 42-pound coyote was killed by a vehicle on Route 119 in Westmoreland
County. It was photographed with Wildlife Conservation Officer Tim Flanigan
holding it, then analyzed at Pennsylvania State University and determined to be
an eastern coyote.
coyotes weren’t isolated individuals – the Venango County hunters and Mr. Lippincott
proved that. And while it may be true that some people have heard individual PGC
employees express personal doubt about the existence of coyotes, an employee of
an agency isn’t a spokesperson for the agency, and may not be well informed.
the foregoing are facts, but skeptics still ask how the population of coyotes exploded
so suddenly. The likely answer is a simple predator-prey relationship. Several
factors changed the landscape in the mid- to late-20th century,
creating ideal habitat for prey animals and perfect conditions for predators.
that time, family farms began to decline, and crop fields reverted to early
successional forest. Then, gypsy moths began defoliating vast oak stands. As
the leaf canopy disappeared, sunlight began reaching the ground and stimulating
the growth of the understory, where prey species thrived. Landowners rushed to
harvest the dying oaks, along with other mature trees at the same time, adding
to the dense understory. The regenerating forests and brushlands provided ideal
whitetail habitat. As the deer population increased, coyotes had another food
source, particularly in the spring during fawn drop.
World War II ended, the economy boomed. Suburbs swelled with new homes. Rabbits
and woodchucks and other prey animals thrived around the edges of towns, giving
predators even more easy opportunities. Those new suburban homes became host to
family pets, but the family pet of choice was no longer Fido. It was Felix,
because cats were easier to take care of when wives and mothers were entering
the workforce in great numbers. And when cats wander a little too far from
home, they too become easy meals for coyotes.
to the landscape never happen in isolation. With dramatic habitat changes, and
with coyotes being an opportunistic animal, it should be expected that their
population would increase. It would be surprising if it didn’t.
a fact that coyotes have been at home in Penn’s Woods for at least 75 years,
and a very plausible explanation exists to explain their population increase. But
if someone chooses to believe the coyote population came to us through
artificial stocking, he doesn't have the facts, so don’t argue with him.
There’s no law against being wrong.