Few animals on Colorado’s modern prairie draw as much ire as coyotes. Although they are a key predator that keeps the food web functioning, ranching and agricultural interests often view them as threats to cattle and other livestock. This often results in coyotes being killed or hunted year-round. The Colorado Prairie Initiative is working to end what is effectively persecution of an important prairie species through research and advocacy.
Wildlife Services is a subagency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was created in the early 20th century to facilitate the settlement of the west. Today, they exist with largely the same mission and function: to kill wildlife. Wildlife Services agents are hired by local landowners and county governments to kill coyotes using firearms, traps, and poison. See Table A for a breakdown of the lethal methods used in Colorado over the last five years.
To change the discussion about predators on the prairie, CPI knows that more information is needed. Our current research project focuses on the seasonal variations of coyote diet on the shortgrass prairie. This will help us understand more about what particular types of prey coyotes consume during different times of the year, which will in turn inform management policies. For example, if data show that coyotes feed heavily on beef cows during certain months, management might be warranted during those times. However, if during other seasons coyotes feed largely on small mammals or birds, policies do not need to allow the animals to be killed for protection.
The research uses scat analysis to determine the seasonal breakdown in diet of coyotes in a certain region of the Pawnee National Grassland. The area is grazed almost year round, and the study is expected to reveal to what extent, if any, coyotes interfere with cattle. If you are interested in volunteering to help with this project, please email CPI here.