A talk on the wild side

HOLLIS – You’ve heard them howling at night. Maybe you’ve seen their tracks in the snow.

They are coyotes, the largest predator around here. You wonder about the safety of your pet dogs or your children.

On Friday, March 13, Chris Schadler, a wild canid ecologist with Project Coyote, will give a PowerPoint presentation in Hollis’ Lawrence Barn, co-sponsored by the Beaver Brook Nature Center and the Hollis Social Library.

Schadler will explain how the Eastern coyote came to be and how people and coyotes can learn to co-exist. And co-exist they must, because, as she says, “Once you have coyotes, you will always have them.”

Informed by her academic background in wild canine ecology and experience raising sheep in New Hampshire without the aid of lethal coyote control measures, Schadler will talk about how and why her “experiment” succeeded and how to avoid human-coyote conflicts.

Schadler is working on a book, “Becoming Wolf: The Eastern Coyote in New England.” The phrase “becoming wolf” refers to the fact that the Eastern coyote is a coyote/wolf hybrid, bigger than the Western coyote and with somewhat different behavior patterns.

“It is simply a small wolf,” she said.

Her interest in wild canids started in the mid-1970s when she volunteered at the Wolf Park in Battleground, Ind., and raised a wolf pup. This opportunity led to a master’s degree in conservation biology, and since then she has been researching wolves and teaching conservation issues and wild canid ecology at New Hampshire colleges.

While wolf recovery was the focus of her early work, Schadler’s attention shifted to the Eastern coyote when she moved to New England. She chose a farm with known coyote problems to raise sheep and train her border collies.

Schadler says she’s especially interested in the “dichotomy of love and hate” that coyotes inspire in people – why some adore coyotes and some feel they should be wiped off the face of the Earth.

And she disagrees with the way they’re managed in New Hampshire. Here, and in 41 other states, it is open season on these wild dogs 365 days a year, and they can be hunted day or night and during breeding season.

Even worse are the legal “coyote kill contests” that take place in some parts of the state.

Using these animals essentially for target practice is irresponsible, she says, and “driven by a small minority of hunters.”

“What underlies it is a lack of appreciation for coyotes, our top predator, and a lack of understanding that no amount of killing can reduce the coyote population.”

Biologically, coyotes engage in “responsive reproduction,” meaning they respond to a reduction in their numbers by producing more cubs.

Killing them, she said, also destabilizes the pack, encouraging the young to prey on livestock. Adult coyotes “pass down hunting traditions to the pups … and inform them about what to eat.”

What coyotes eat is important to humans. Their prey is typically small rodents that are pests to most people. And by culling the population of woodchucks, coyotes give an invaluable gift to horse owners, because holes in the ground can break a horse’s leg.

Schadler is the New Hampshire and Vermont representative of the Project Coyote, a nonprofit “North American coalition of wildlife scientists, educators, predator-friendly ranchers and community leaders that promotes compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife,” according to its website.

The organization’s main goals are to create successful models of coexistence, to “stop the wanton and cruel killing of predators across North America” and to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

Coyotes have been “poisoned, trapped, aerial gunned and killed for bounties and in contests, and an estimated 500,000 coyotes die every year in the U.S. alone – one per minute. Revered and respected by Native Americans for their intelligence and resilience, coyotes have much to teach us about the capacity to evolve and coexist in the face of rapid ecological and social change.”

The program is free. Donations are accepted.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.