Ocean City, Maryland. The following opinion was published on 21 April 2013 as “Arlo Hemphill: In Reality, Coyotes are Good for Delmarva” in The Daily Times and its online companion, DelmarvaNow.com – a newspaper of Salisbury, Maryland.
Living on the Eastern Shore, The Daily Times is one of my favorite sources for unbiased and insightful local reporting. I find it invaluable for keeping tabs on Delmarva news with a straightforward and broad-minded worldview. This is why I was shocked to come across Charlene Sharpe’s misguided piece titled “’Wiley’ coyotes invade Delmarva.”
The article paints trapper Gene Garrett as a local hero for slaughtering wild animals simply because they exist. It speculates that coyotes might go after people’s pets or even attack humans, but offers no evidence for this in Maryland. Instead, it chronicles paranoid landowners who want them “dispatched” simply because they are here. Meanwhile, Garrett himself refers to the coyote as “such a wary animal, a shy animal.”
In reality, the recent influx of coyotes is a good thing. It’s good for wild habitat and the people of Delmarva. This region was once home to abundant large predators — black bear, puma, and grey wolf, in a time when Delmarva had stands of immense hardwoods and abundant game. Predators belong here and serve as powerful mediators — keeping our wild lands thriving. Coyotes prey on vermin and grazing deer, curbing overpopulation of pests and keeping game species robust. Want big healthy deer come hunting season? Let coyotes pick off the weak and sick. Upset that deer are overgrazing your property? Let coyotes keep them skittish and on-the-move.
In terms of safety, people on the West Coast have long lived side by side with these predators, with problem animals relatively rare. In fact, coyotes thrive in the heart of Los Angeles — one of our largest cities, where people are much more concerned about traffic on the 405 than this natural part of the landscape. I’ve personally witnessed coyotes harmlessly quarreling and playing among residential neighborhoods full of school children and fashionista chihuahuas. And I’ve come across massive males at dusk on lonely mountain trails, only to startle them much more than they me.
The coyote should not be viewed as an alien invader. This is not a snakehead or Burmese python that humans erroneously introduced into the environment. Their arrival marks a natural range extension, like the opossum before them and the armadillo to come. Indeed, a niche we opened by killing off wolves may have paved their way here, but it is a niche that benefits us when occupied.
Killing coyotes just because they exist is a fear-based response grounded in ignorance. It is the same reason we fight wars we don’t need and pass invasive laws we hate. I’m all for hunting and I love our Delmarva outdoors culture. But when you go after the shy coyote — whose meat you don’t eat and hide you don’t tan — have the decency to admit it was for sport and don’t pretend you’re doing a public service.