As newcomers go, coyote is howling success, indeed More being sighted across Maryland

April 29, 1992|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

The howl of the wild grows louder in Maryland as coyotes -- nocturnal predators once restricted to the American West -- move into this state's rural outposts from Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Their population is unknown, but the number of coyote sightings and carcasses reported to state officials grows each year, said Peter Jayne, supervisor of the upland game and furbearer program of the state Department of Natural Resources.

"The list of sightings goes on for six pages," Mr. Jayne said. "Some of them are accurate. Some probably aren't. We have no idea on the population. There are probably dozens of animals that are residents."

The areas where coyotes havez been most active are along the Susquehanna River in Cecil and Harford counties; along the Monocacy River in Frederick County; and in the Dans Mountain area in Allegany County, he said. Coyotes are believed to inhabit all of the Maryland counties that border Pennsylvania.

The animals range in color and size. When fully grown, the typical eastern coyote weighs 30 to 35 pounds. Its pelt is brown mixed with highlights of rust and black. The ears are large and pointed; the snout is long and narrow.

Although coyotes have become increasingly visible to residents, they pose no danger to humans, Mr. Jayne said.

As their population grows, coyotes will pose threats to some wildlife and domestic and farm animals, Mr. Jayne said. Maryland has no laws protecting coyotes and has made no efforts to control their growth, he said.

"They have been known to kill livestock," Mr. Jayne said. "They eat sheep. Maryland is not a big sheep-producing state. Our stance now is that it could be a localized problem. But we don't expect major industry problems."

Les Terry, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Damage Control office in Annapolis, said there are no records of coyotes killing livestock in Maryland. But he said he expects problems as the state's coyote population grows.

"In other areas where the population has grown -- in Virginia and West Virginia -- coyotes have killed newborn lambs or young lambs," he said. "They're capable of eating young calves, too."

Their two preferred foods, Mr. Jayne said, are groundhogs and house cats.

"They are extremely bold at taking house cats," he said. "There are cases in Maryland where they have literally come on porches to take house cats and small dogs."

Royd R. Smith, a former state lawmaker with a farm east of Frederick, said that coyotes swiped kittens from his porch last fall and killed several geese.

"We couldn't believe they were that brazen to come up on the porch and get the kittens," Mr. Smith said. "They have all kinds of nerve. They're sly as the dickens."

Mr. Smith said he eventually killed three coyotes one morning while making the rounds of his farm.

"You could hear them howling late at night and early in the morning," he said. "They seem to be nocturnal. I used to see them along the fence rows early in the morning. I think I've scared them away."

Of greater concern is the coyote's impact on the state's red fox population, Mr. Jayne said. Traditionally, coyotes and red foxes have not existed together. As the coyote population grows, the red fox is almost certain to move out, he said.

"Red foxes are an important resource in Maryland because there are a number of user groups, such as fox chasers, who use them," he said. "They will be sorely missed."

Coyotes also are known to eat deer, which Mr. Jayne said could be beneficial in controlling Maryland's growing deer population.

At the turn of the century, coyotes were restricted to west of the Mississippi River. Now they occupy all Eastern states, except Delaware, and all of the Canadian provinces. Maryland is one of the last states to see coyotes move in, he said.

"It's important to recognize that coyotes are not indigenous to Maryland," he said. "It's a new animal moving in. It's not a wild turkey we're restoring in Maryland. It's coming in on its own."

Mr. Jayne said the best theory for the migration here is the extinction in the East of the wolf, another animal with which the coyote does not coexist. "The last wolves were killed around the turn of the century, and that's when we saw coyotes moving eastward," he said. "But it could be coincidental."

The first coyote recovered in the state was in Montgomery County in 1921. State officials believe the animal had been released here. The next one was found in Cecil County in 1961. It is believed that coyote migrated into the state.

In recent years, coyotes have migrated into Maryland from Pennsylvania, and to a lesser extent from Virginia, Mr. Jayne said.

Although Mr. Jayne finds the coyote fascinating, he has mixed emotions about its presence in Maryland.

"They are adaptable and successful, and you can't help but to have respect for them," he said. "I would prefer we keep our red fox resources and not have the coyote. They're coming in, and there's nothing we can do to stop it. It's only going to get worse."

Pete Leggett and his son, Ron, both dairy farmers near Boonsboro in Washington County, have their own ideas on how to control the coyote population: trapping.

"As the population gets big enough, they'll begin killing deer. It will happen unless we trap the hell out of them," said the elder Leggett. "It's going to be a disaster."

Added son Ron, "They're detrimental to everyone."

The Leggetts travel to Virginia and Western states to help farmers and ranchers trap coyotes, which have ravaged livestock there.

Occasionally, they have seen coyotes on their 1,200-acre dairy and crop farm. They've trapped three coyotes in Maryland.

"Once they acquire a diet for calves, sheep and goats, we're going to be in trouble," Ron Leggett said. "As farmers, we're concerned about them being here.

"We don't need them in the East," he added.

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