Lavigne puts coyote control plan on the table

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You’ve got to hand it to Gerry Lavigne. His retirement as Maine’s state deer biologist was just a formality. His interest in Maine’s whitetail deer populations has never flagged. Like the dependable Timex watch, he just keeps on ticking. His latest contribution is a white paper called “A Plan for Integrated Coyote Control in Maine.” It was released in mid-April under the banner of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM).

 The plan is a thorough, innovative and a practical blueprint for managing runaway coyote numbers in our deer woods. It could not come at a better time, either. This spring we have new leadership at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Our new MDIF&W commissioner, Chandler Woodcock, has put deer recovery at the top of his list of things to get done. If the new commissioner simply commits himself to speak for sportsmen, no matter the political or legal perils, he will be off to a refreshing start.

Lavigne’s coyote-control blueprint lays it all out with forethought and precision, but – like all plans – the devil is in the details. In so many aspects of the deer recovery issue, leadership from Commissioner Woodcock can make it happen. Here are Lavigne’s recommendations for the MDIF&W role in any effective coyote control program:

 “The success of DIFW’s coyote control program will depend on the support it receives at all levels within the agency, from field biologists and wardens to administrators and the Commissioner’s office. DIFW is also encouraged to provide support to other organizations and the hunting public who engage in coyote hunting. This support also extends to advocacy for coyote control efforts when our hunting and trapping privileges are threatened in the Legislature or in the courts.

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After the Canada lynx was federally listed as threatened, the Department suspended the use of neck snares for use by ADC agents (2003), and later agreed to foothold trap restrictions in designated lynx habitat (2008). Both concessions limit our ability to capture coyotes in most of eastern, western and northern Maine. We urge the Department to resolve whether the USFWS is willing to issue an incidental take permit that would restore our ability to snare and trap coyotes as soon as possible. If an incidental take permit is not forthcoming, then we recommend that DIFW explore other legal options without further delay.”

In his plan, Lavigne also acknowledges the support that state legislators have generally given sportsmen issues, but suggests some legislative action that can help as well. Lavigne writes:

 “The first change involves the night hunting season on coyote that currently spans Dec. 16 to Aug. 31 annually. Night hunting is proving to be a very effective means of taking coyote, particularly for coyotes that have become “bait shy”. With our focus on taking coyote during fall and early winter, it would be highly desirable to be able to hunt coyote at night during the autumn months as well. We appreciate the concerns that game wardens would have in trying to discriminate between the gunshots of illegal deer hunters vs. those of legal coyote hunters. To address this concern, we offer the following comprise. Establish a separate night hunting permit for September 1 to December 15. This permit would be issued only to individuals, certified ADC agents, and registered Maine guides who have no convictions for fish and wildlife violations. Each permit holder must notify their local warden of their hunting location prior to the start of night hunting operations. Clients may be covered by the guide’s coyote hunting permit.

 The second legislative change involves the use of crossbows. Modern crossbows are effective hunting implements that may be useful on coyotes at short range. They are discrete and quiet; crossbows may prove effective near residential areas where gunshots would cause undue disturbance. We recommend that the Legislature authorize the use of crossbows for coyote hunting during any open season on coyote.

 The final change involves tagging requirements for coyote. Currently, coyote trappers and hunters must register with DIFW and tag any coyote that is to be sold, given away, or modified by taxidermy. The tagging fee is 25 cents. Some DIFW officials and not all tagging stations are available to tag coyote. The tagging requirement is inconvenient for both hunters and trappers and tagging agents. Because not all coyotes are tagged, the data is of little use to DIFW, and it does not lead to coyote management decisions by the Department. We recommend that coyote be exempt from tagging, as is the case for many other furbearers, including muskrat, raccoon, ermine, skunk, etc.”

 Lavigne emphasizes that, while progress has been made by sportsmen themselves in controlling coyotes, not enough has been done. Lavigne says that we need to harvest an additional 5,000 coyotes a year to have an impact on deer predation by coyotes. He also argues, persuasively, that the time to hunt and trap coyotes is during the spring denning season and in early fall BEFORE the deer go to their wintering areas. He makes a valid point, too, about the need to educate the non-hunting public about deer/coyote issues. It is amazing how ill-informed some people can be. Bangor state lawmaker Sara Stevens, who sponsored a bill to stop baiting (hunting of coyotes) on the ice, told me that she knew nothing about deer and coyotes. Equally uninformed was one of her bill’s cosponsors, Rep. Adam Goode of Bangor, who said, “I don’t know anything about sportspeople issues.”

Sportsmen and women and fish and game clubs around the state need to rally around Lavigne’s plan. Public support, combined with new leadership at DIF&W, can make it happen!

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com and his new book is “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook.”

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