Governor signs coyote bounty bill

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By Megan Adams and Ali Kirk

Coyotes, long known as predators, will be falling prey to Utah legislation, after Gov. Gary Herbert signed a coyote bounty bill into law on Saturday.

Herbert signed SB2454, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.  Okerlund said the law helps farmers by raising the bounty for coyotes, which are a major threat to Utah’s mule deer population.

“The deer  herd is at the lowest levels we’ve seen in decades,” Okerlund said. “In some parts of the state their numbers are so low that it’s hard to find any, which means there’s not enough of them to be able to recover without some help.”

The Mule Deer Protection Act, the bill’s name, has appropriated $750,000  to cover the expenses. This will pay $50 per coyote killed, which is a great increase to the current $20 bounty. The bill allows for multiple options for the coyote elimination, including vendors who specifically offer predator control services.

Okerlund said the Division of Wildlife Resources has been working with hunting groups to try and do three things. The first is habitat improvement. He said over 800,000 acres of land have been decimated, and the state has put forth tens of millions of dollars already to improve it.

Secondly, the state wildlife board has created smaller hunting units so it will be easier to manage the mule deer population.

“Before we had a lot of large units and so they’d issue a certain number of tags and try and control it,” Okerlund said. “If we have smaller units we can look at a smaller part of the state and see what the needs are, and how many animals there are.”

The final piece of the the puzzle is to take care of the predators, the coyotes, which is why he believes this bill is so important.

The act will also allow for the creation and distribution of of educational materials regarding mule deer. Mule deer are a species of deer, easily identifiable by their large mule-like ears. They are found throughout the western United States, but are decreasing in population by falling prey to coyotes.

Public Information Officer Larry Lewis emphasized how important it is to remove the predators, not only because of the deterioration of mule deer, but to protect sheep and lamb as well. In 2010, there was more than $1 million worth of sheep and lamb killed by predators in the state of Utah. This hurts the shepherds who make their livings from sheep.

“This is a way of keeping small business operators in business, of keeping sheep herders in business in Utah,” Lewis said.

Kyle Stephens, deputy commissioner for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, agreed with Lewis.

“The emphasis is on the fact that we need to do more things to protect the mule deer herd and the declining numbers but because of the major programs we operate, but if we are doing coyote control on a sheep grounds, that has a benefit to the wildlife in that area, because then they’re not being killed,” he said. “Conversely, if we’re taking out coyotes who prey on the mule deer population, that benefits the livestock industry.”

John Shivik, mammal coordinator at the Utah division of wildlife resources, said the fluctuation of mule deer populations is not unusual for areas in the western United States.

“Deer populations have big peaks and lows,” Shivik said. “They do this in Utah and throughout the west. Now we’re in one of our low spots. The state has objectives; the thing we’re shooting for is to have, frankly, more deer than we have now.”

Shivik added that predators are not the only thing that is affecting mule deer populations in Utah.

“The thing that regulates these herds are things like weather and drought, and habitats,” Shivik said. “There are potential impacts of predators, especially if those other things are bad. Any one thing is not enough; just removing all the coyotes won’t automatically make deer appear on every street corner. Those other things such as weather and habitat have to happen at the same time.”

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in Springville is working with habitat to create a better natural ground for mule deer. While they can’t quite change the weather yet, the division is working around it.

During the legislative sessions, the Utah Humane Society questioned the bill’s facts and contended that the killing coyotes will not, in fact, help aid mule deer populations in Utah.

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