Coyotes moving in on Carlsbad, culling contests continue

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Coyotes eat a wide variety of meat and vegetables, easily finding dinner in a trash can or dumpster. 

They have been known to attack pets — even humans — when cornered.

Woods Houghton, Eddy County extension agent with New Mexico State University, said reports of the predators inside the City of Carlsbad have grown in the last year.

And as Carlsbad continues to grow, stretching development further into the previously uninhabited area around the edges of Carlsbad, their presence could increase.

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Houghton, who raises sheep, said he’s already lost five lambs this year to coyote attacks.

In past years, he said it was rare to lose even one.

“We’re getting more and more reports of coyotes in town,” Houghton said. “I’ve never had coyotes come in and kill lambs before. I’ve seen coyotes with cats in their mouths.”

Coyote population movement map showing disbursement throughout the United States.

Typically, nocturnal hunters, Houghton said coyotes were recently witnessed stalking through the city during the day.

This change in behavior, he said, could be caused by an increased abundance of food in urban areas.

“They’re usually night hunters. They tend to avoid daylight,” he said. “It seems to be getting worse.”

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Houghton pointed to rolling garbage cans that recently replaced many steel dumpsters in the city. He said the new trash cans are easier for the coyotes to break into for a meal.

He also said the region’s recent drought has made food scarcer in the wild, forcing coyotes to find new places to hunt.

“Coyotes want three things: food, water and shelter,” Houghton said. “Food has become more accessible. I never had a problem when we had dumpsters. It’s an unintended consequence.”

Residents can prevent the impact of coyotes with simple actions, he said, such as not leaving food or water outside for pets.

Eddy County Agriculture Extension Agent Woods Houghton explains the dangers posed by venomous animals in Eddy County, April 18, 2018 at the Pecos River Village Conference Center.

People should never confront coyotes, as they will attack if cornered, Houghton said.

“People need to be aware. You shouldn’t interact with them at all,” he said. “They will fight. They’re getting used to people as we’re having more activity out in the field.

“As we get more and more housing out in the country, there are things city folk don’t know that country people do. (Coyotes) are wild animals. They are not tame, and they don’t intend to become tame.”

Sam Smallidge, statewide extension wildlife specialist at New Mexico State University said coyotes in urban environments can pose a different challenge from rural environments.

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He said coyotes are highly-adaptable and able to seek out food sources and shelter quickly once they enter urban areas.

“Urban coyotes are quite a different reality,” Smallidge said. “There are some additional dangers for them in urban areas, but there is a benefit from a nutritional perspective. There’s more density of food, and they have a very wide diet.”

The solution to New Mexico’s coyote problem may lie beyond reduction of population numbers, he said, but could involve altering the environment coyotes are impacting to make it less attractive.

What that means in a city or high-population area is primarily not leaving food sources outside, Smallidge said.

“It’s not just population management,” he said. “It’s habitat management. That’s critically important.”

‘Blood sport’ or a real solution?

Killing coyotes is the most viable solution to controlling the population, and protecting livestock, said Jim Bob Allen.

Allen organizes annual coyote-calling contests in central New Mexico, where contestants have a day and a half to call and kill the animals in exchange for a cash prize.

The events are held in November, when coyotes are most active.

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While Allen doubted that coyote populations in New Mexico will ever be fully controlled, he said the contests could make a difference.

Last year’s contest brought in about 370 coyote kills, he said.

“I don’t think you’ll ever control the population,” he said. “But it helps to trim it.

Allen said he hunted coyotes for 30 years, and there seem to be even more today. He attributed that to a lack of trapping, a more popular hunting method in decades past.

“Trapping is by far the best way,” Allen said.

Regardless of the method, he said the need is obvious as more and more ranchers are reporting attacks – even on large animals such as cows.

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He said he’s even heard of coyotes attacking livestock during birth.

“If you’d ever seen a calf that was half born, and half eaten,” Allen said. “I’ve got a lot of ranchers that have seen a cow getting eaten while it’s giving birth. That’s what happens when the population is out of control.”

Allen said the legal hunting method could prove a solution to the invasive coyotes.

“It definitely helps the situation,” he said. “If we have a legal right to do it, we’ll continue to do it. We follow all the laws. We do it right.”

But a New Mexico State senator vowed to put a stop to the contest.

New Mexico Sen. Jeff Steinborn

Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-36) sponsored Senate Bill 268 which would make the contests illegal.

He said the contests have nothing to do with population control but are merely “killing for the sake of killing.”

“It’s just completely inaccurate that coyote killing contests can control the population,” Steinborn said. “They’re organized by fringe groups that just want to kill for the sake of killing. It’s literally a blood sport.”

He said he intends to reintroduce the legislation in the next legislative session in Santa Fe.

During the 2017 session, HB 268 never made it to a vote on the House floor.

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Steinborn said if it had passed in 2017, the law would have made New Mexico the first state in the nation to outlaw the practice.

Instead, that distinction went to Vermont earlier this year.

“I fully intend to make New Mexico the second state to outlaw coyote killing contests in the next session,” Steinborn said.

Instead of killing the animals, Steinborn suggested the State consider managing the species by dispersing the population without using lethal force.

“There’s certainly non-lethal means of controlling coyotes,” he said. “We’re moving into their (habitat). There’s a way to coexist with wildlife. It doesn’t have to mean killing them.”

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Coyotes should be regulated and managed as any other species that is hunted for sport, he said, rather than being freely shot in the contests.

“The coyote in New Mexico continues to be an unmanaged species,” Steinborn said. “There’s not regulation. It should be treated as a game species and managed accordingly.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.