By Katerina Brumer
Humans share the planet with many different species of wildlife. Some receive protections as endangered species, like the Canada lynx in Vermont, while others receive little to no protections at all. Bobcats, close cousins to the Canada lynx, and coyotes are grouped in the latter category. As apex predators on Vermont’s landscape, these animals are vital contributors to healthy, vibrant ecosystems, but they’re often misunderstood and unfairly maligned.
One of the main roles coyotes and bobcats play are that of scavengers consuming carrion, mainly when their preferred food source is scarce. By eating the remains of dead animals, they clean the forest floor and may help stop the spread of diseases such as brucellosis. This may reduce the spread of the disease that could harm livestock, dogs, and humans.
It begs the question: why do some farmers shoot every coyote they see, especially in cases where the coyote is causing no harm at all? Both coyotes and bobcats prey on rodents that may carry Lyme disease, as well as small mammals like groundhogs and other species that may cause crop losses.
Many people are surprised to learn that coyotes are omnivores and eat berries and other plants, which aids in seed dispersal, the mechanism by which plant seeds are transported to new sites for germination, something we all benefit from. And for many of us, one of their most important roles is providing us with the opportunity to simply catch a glimpse of them and enjoy their beauty and embodiment of what it means to be wild and free.
But despite all these ecological services, there are more than a few in Vermont who’d be happy without them here. Too often we hear, “We need to manage predator populations!”
Well, science would disagree. Unlike deer and other prey species, bobcats and coyotes do not need human interference to manage their population levels. Coyotes, for example, will defend a territory of 4-8 miles against other coyotes. This means that territory naturally limits coyote numbers. Despite that, coyotes may be hunted year-round, day and night, which not only conflicts with modern science, but with the ethics of hunting.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife allows hunting, including the use of hounds, and trapping seasons on both species for a mere $23 trapping license and $28 hunting license — small price tags to kill these animals merely for “sport.” Hunters bait both coyotes and bobcats with animal carcasses, call them into close range with high tech game-calling devices, and also unleash packs of hounds on them, an activity that has caused so much outrage that a bill, S.281, was introduced last month to ban it (for coyotes).
When I recently asked Fish & Wildlife why there are seasons on bobcats, they said, “As long as trapping or hunting does not impact the long-term sustainability of the population, we believe it is a legitimate way for people to access a local, free-ranging source of clothing and food.” But no one eats bobcats or wears their fur in 2022. I was surprised to learn that as long as an animal’s population can sustain hunting and trapping, Fish & Wildlife will allow it as a recreational opportunity. Most people would likely assume that, if there’s a hunting or trapping season on an animal, there’s some biological imperative. That is not always the case. Sometimes the reason is solely to offer more opportunities to “sportsmen.”
Bobcats and coyotes deserve society’s attention and respect not only for the benefits they provide to humans, but for their intrinsic value as well. Wildlife faces a multitude of threats from rodenticide and lead poisoning to loss of habitat to new diseases, just to name a few.
In this era of climate change and other threats, both known and unknown, impacting wildlife, we should tread lightly. A good start would be no more killing solely for recreation.
Katerina Brumer is a student at the University of Vermont with a major in animal science and a minor in wildlife biology.