Don’t Fear the Coyote

The Government of Nova Scotia’s spooky “pelt incentive” rehashes tired mythology about our place in the natural world.

Coyotes are the new bogeymen. They handily scare small children and simple-minded adults.

OK, there's a slight difference. Last year, bogeymen killed zero Nova Scotians. Coyotes didn't kill any Nova Scotians either, but two coyotes killed one Toronto visitor---Taylor Mitchell---and that's a tragic, unusual loss. It's a tragedy for Mitchell and the people who love her, and it's a tragedy for Nova Scotian coyotes.

Because of that one incident, one other close call and a few sightings near schools, half the province's coyotes will be slaughtered on the taxpayers' dime---to the tune of $20 per pelt. It's a Nova Scotia shotgun massacre as gory as any Jason Eisener flick.

Hunting---if done carefully and respectfully---is the most sustainable, humane way to get meat. But by funding this wasteful, fear-based slaughter, the government of Nova Scotia is maintaining the archaic myth of the man v. nature dichotomy. Here, nature is the ultimate evil, our competitor and nemesis, the scary threat to God's children, who must subdue the bitch at every opportunity.

In the case of coyotes, minister of natural resources John MacDonnell caught on to what staff scientists had long argued: Bounties on coyotes don't control the population, because as long as food and habitat are abundant coyotes will procreate faster and replenish their numbers---like any population. "If you remove enough animals out of the population...the food supply left in proportion to the remaining population is greater," MacDonnell said back in March.

He flip-flopped six weeks later, on Earth Day, a rapid turnaround even by NDP NS standards.

Now, the government is paying hunters to live trap, and then shoot to death, coyotes. Make sense? The skins must be cured---a six-day process---to qualify for the $20 "incentive." Apparently this strategy will scare the rest of the coyotes straight back into the wild and off human property. To paraphrase The Simpsons' Chief Wiggum, "let that be a lesson to the rest of you"...coyotes.

But the bounty (excuse me, pelt incentive) doesn't specify where the coyotes should be killed. Most of them will meet their makers off old logging roads, far from human dwellings. On the other hand, bounties---even pelt incentive bounties---open the door to killing the animals further afield, in New Brunswick, where there is no bounty.

In Saskatchewan, before that province's bounty was removed, hunters presented to officials the hacked-off paws of Albertan coyotes, leaving the rest of the bloody corpses for Calgary to deal with. If caught, the evil-doers face---wait for it---littering charges.

Coyotes aren't exactly "natural" in this province. They migrated here back in the '70s, possibly mating with wolves along the way, resulting in bigger, more badass coyotes---a different species altogether. As a plains animal, their migration was possible only because of massive clear-cutting, which began in the '50s and continues today. It was our assault on nature that caused the "problem," and will now proliferate it.

They're here now and have become integrated into our ecosystem. Coyotes eat several rodents a day. Citizens---farmers especially---will be left with thousands of extra rodents to deal with come spring. Paul Paquet, senior scientist at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation in BC, notes that coyotes also remove massive amounts of insects, sick animals and carcasses---a free service for humanity.

This year they'll do significantly less of that good work. As we have seen in the ocean, with the 90 percent overall decline in large fish species' populations, removing majorities of large predator species (called apex predators) throws ecosystems off balance.

The coyote slaughter is bad for the forest, bad for farmers and now bad for tourism. The popular Huffington Post has called on its American readers to email MacDonnell and tell him they won't be bringing their tourist dollars here as long as the "pelt incentive" remains.

The sad irony is, motivated by our irrational fear of nature, constantly forgetting that we are part of it, we become the ultimate victims of our revenge on it when our resource-based economy suffers, when we find ourselves going to extreme measures (genetic modification, chemical warfare) just to feed ourselves in the face of climatic chaos and the global spread of erosion and desertification.

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