'We need to help Mother Nature out a little bit': Sask. RMs introduce coyote bounties

People in Weyburn are concerned about packs of coyotes roaming around and the municipality has decided to introduce a bounty. (Shutterstock / Karl Umbriaco - image credit)
People in Weyburn are concerned about packs of coyotes roaming around and the municipality has decided to introduce a bounty. (Shutterstock / Karl Umbriaco - image credit)

There's a $20 price on coyote paw sets in some parts of southern Saskatchewan as rural municipalities (RMs) try to cull the growing populations.

Coyote numbers have become an issue not only for livestock producers, but also for people living on acreages in and around Weyburn, which is about 115 kilometres southeast of Regina, Reeve Norm McFadden said.

They have started seeing packs of up to 15 coyotes in the area and families are concerned, he said.

"That can be a little scary at times and intimidating," he said. "So this is something we've talked about for a while and we just decided: 'Let's see if this will help.'"

Weyburn, Estevan and Cymri are among the RMs in the province's southeast that are offering the $20 bounty. And McFadden said he wouldn't be surprised if all the RMs that border Weyburn follow suit in the next few weeks.

Coyotes have been in Weyburn's city limits during the last few years and residents are concerned that little kids riding their bikes and playing outside might not be safe.

"God forbid something ever was to happen," McFadden said. "And then it's kind of too late, right?"

Weyburn's coyote bounty program is expected to run until late fall, he said, adding the end date will be determined by the size of the cull and whether people are still seeing the large packs.

Feedback mostly positive

About 95 per cent of the bounty feedback has been positive, McFadden said, adding he knows it won't be popular with everyone.

"We're not looking to wipe these animals off the map," he said. "We need to help Mother Nature out a little bit. Because, typically, Mother Nature takes care of itself, right? But these numbers are getting high."

McFadden said people who turn in paws have to fill out a remittance form and provide the name and contact information of the owner of the land where the coyotes were killed. He said it's to ensure people are following Saskatchewan's anti-trespassing law and to guard against people trying to claim the bounty for coyotes harvested elsewhere.

Ray Orb, the president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), said it seems as if the coyote population in the province has grown.

Orb said he's received a few calls from producers in different areas of the province in recent weeks who are having a lot of problems with coyotes.

He said some regions have had a lot of snow and combined with the cool spring, it's contributing to the predators causing more damage.

"I think part of that is because of deep snow and the cattle are more contained now, and in certain areas, are not out on the pasture," he said. "And so the contact they have from predators like coyotes would be much more intensified."

He said it's a particular problem this time of year when there are young calves on the ground.

"And so coyotes are getting into farm yards and they're doing a lot of damage," he said.

Low pelt prices keeping trappers away

Both Orb and McFadden drew a link between the current situation and the declining price of coyote pelts.

At its fur sale two summers ago, North Bay, Ontario-based Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. sold western heavy coyote pelts for an average of about $120. Last summer, the average price per pelt had dropped to just under $35.

Don Gordon, the president of the Saskatchewan Trappers Association, said the decision by clothing manufacturer Canada Goose to stop using wild fur in its products is the biggest factor behind the sharp decline in prices, but pandemic-related garment manufacturing shutdowns in Asia also hurt the industry.

He said with the current pelt prices and the cost of fuel, it just doesn't pay for trappers to harvest coyotes.

Gordon said, at most, five per cent of the trappers who actively targeted coyote pelts three years ago are still harvesting them.

"So the guys are just sitting this one out and waiting for things to come back," he said.

"In some cases, guys are sitting on product that they trapped two years ago that they haven't marketed yet."

Gordon said, this past winter, there were people posting on social media and on online hunting forums looking for someone to come and hunt coyotes on their property.

But he questions how many people will sign up for the bounty programs.

"It's a bit of a waste of a resource," he said. "I don't see a whole bunch of people jumping up and going out for it, because the pelts are worthless right now.

"You're killing just for a $20 bounty. Well, nobody would trap for $20. I can't see anyone running around for $20."

Bounty programs criticized for potentially backfiring

Coyote bounty programs have received criticism from some ecologists and conservation groups in the past, including those who say there could be major consequences for removing predators from the land.

Nature Saskatchewan has said research has proven repeatedly that coyote bounties weed out the weak, easier-to-catch coyotes — leaving stronger, wilier survivors to increase their litters.

The Saskatchewan government introduced a $20 coyote bounty in 2009, which resulted in 71,000 of the animals being harvested over five months — double the 35,000 the province's agriculture minister at the time had hoped would be killed.

Bob Bjornerud said he "took a lot of heat" over the program from people who thought it wasn't necessary to kill coyotes.

The program wasn't renewed in 2010 — the same year the province introduced a compensation program for producers who lose livestock to predators.

If you encounter a coyote, the City of Saskatoon's urban biological services department advises to not turn your back or run, but to act assertively, yell and wave your arms.