County votes in support of year-round coyote hunting

Earlier this week, the Sussex County Council voted unanimously to send to state officials a resolution in support of year-round hunting and trapping of Eastern coyotes.

Chip West of the Delaware Department of Fish and Wildlife spoke to the council on Tuesday regarding the growing population of Eastern coyotes in the county and state.

“The coyote has arrived in Delaware,” said West of the Eastern coyote.

West said that the animal’s pupping season is from mid-January to mid-March, with an average litter of six pups. He added that it has been documented that coyotes can have anywhere from one to 19 pups in a single litter.

“They are a very opportunistic omnivore… They’ll eat anything,” said West. “I think it’s fair to say at this point that the coyote can live anywhere.”

Describing coyotes as an apex predator in Delaware, West said they will be at the top of the food chain and will “affect everything.” He said coyotes have been documented in all 48 continental states, and in Alaska, and a coyote’s diet depends on food availability and what habitat they are in — eating anything from watermelons to fallen deer to pets.

“The coyote can and will affect agriculture,” he said. “It comes back to food availability and the time of the year. They will predicate on livestock.”

He added that, in urban areas, the coyote will go after domesticated house pets.

“It very well may be in your back yard, hunting for a mouse, but if it’s hungry and comes upon your cat or dog, protein is protein.”

West said that, when coyotes are in close proximity to human beings on a regular basis, they become bolder.

“They tend to lose their fear of man,” he said. “Regardless of what you read… the coyote is a wild animal… and we have to treat him that way. We can never forget that.”

West said that, two years ago, the issue of the coyote population was brought before the Delaware legislature, where it was decided that the hunting of coyotes would be managed by Fish and Wildlife, with a hunting season of Nov. 1 through the end of February, and a trapping season from Dec. 1 through Feb. 10.

“The original proposal was for year-round hunting,” he said.

“What were the reasons for cutting it back?” asked Councilwoman Joan Deaver.

“From what I’ve been told, it corresponded with a lot of other hunting seasons, so it would make it easier for enforcement. There are some other groups that want the coyote protected, so they were trying to — using their words not mine — ‘appease them.’”

West said that, currently, Pennsylvania has year-round hunting season for coyotes, as does Virginia, along with year-round trapping.

“They are currently seeing a 29 percent increase in coyote population annually,” he said. “These states started out conservative, as well… We protected the whitetail deer way too long in Delaware. We protected the resident Canada goose too long.”

Councilman Vance Phillips said he would also be concerned about the affect a growing coyote population would have on the real estate industry in the state.

“I’m not very sure people are going to feel very comfortable listening to coyotes while sitting on their back porch,” agreed West.

West said a public hearing will be held on Sept. 4 in the Richardson and Robbins Building in Dover at 6 p.m., where the public may attend and comment. He requested the support of the council in the form of a letter or resolution supporting a year-round hunting and trapping season for coyotes.

“We need to get ahead of the curve,” he said. “I just don’t want to see us get behind the eight-ball again.”

Nathan Hudson, a fifth-generation watermelon farmer spoke in favor of the council writing a letter of support for year-round hunting and trapping.

“I would like the opportunity to use whatever tool that would be available to me to do what I feel is fit on my farm. If a groundhog runs out and I so choose to shoot it, I can do that. If a coyote ran out and I so choose, I want to be able to do that,” he said. “If coyotes take off as they did — and there is every indication that they will — it will absolutely change our conservation environment in Sussex County. My personal opinion, it will change it for the worst.”

State Rep. Dave Wilson (35th) also spoke in favor of a letter of support for an open season on coyotes.

“If they’re here, and the way that population grows, I think it’s time to step to the plate and do something,” he said.

The Sussex County Council voted unanimously to give West a resolution from the council in support of an open hunting season for coyotes in Sussex County, to be read at the Sept. 4 public hearing.