Coyotes in Vermont
Examining the Impact of Coyotes
The coyote in Vermont is perhaps one of our most polarizing species—admired by some for its adaptability and persistence and loathed by others as a secretive predator and opportunistic hunter. This complex animal has an equally intriguing history and complicated role in the state’s ecosystem. Both are worth considering as Vermont explores how best to manage and coexist with coyotes.
Just as Europeans are relative newcomers to Vermont, the coyote was not believed to exist in the state historically. As European settlers moved west and eliminated the native wolf, the more adaptable coyote started moving east from the western prairies. As coyotes spread eastward, they bred with wolves in southern Canada, giving them a broader skull and larger, heavier bodies than their western counterparts. First sighted in Vermont in the 1940s, the coyote now lives in every corner of the state in territorial family units whose populations are highly self-regulated. Because of these traits, and unless food and habitat availability change, Vermont’s coyote population is unlikely to increase significantly beyond its current level.
While it is true that coyotes kill and consume deer, they are habitat generalists and their diet changes depending on what foods are available. They eat everything from woodchucks to small mammals to fruits, nuts, and insects. Coyotes can also occupy a variety of habitat niches, even those affected by humans. Whether it’s in Central Park in New York City, downtown Chicago, suburban South Burlington, or the rural Northeast Kingdom, the coyote has found a way to exist in ecosystems people have altered.
Many hunters are concerned about coyotes affecting deer populations in the Northeast. Several scientific studies have been undertaken in the last 20 to 30 years to examine what factors impact deer survival. Generally, they found that only about half of fawns survived to 6 months, with most dying as a result of predation by a combination of bobcats, black bears, and coyotes. The most recent study done in Delaware—in an area lacking any predators—saw fawns dying due to starvation or, interestingly, rain events, at the same rates as those in study areas with predators. While habitat quality and harsh winter conditions are the most important factors influencing deer numbers in Vermont, the department also factors in predation when developing deer management recommendations. We, therefore, do not believe that coyotes are negatively affecting the deer population in this state.
Today, the coyote is a permanent and valuable resident of the state. Although it has not been here as long as some of Vermont’s other native predators, such as the bobcat and the red and gray fox, coyotes in particular contribute to filling an important ecological niche left vacant by the wolf. Both predator and prey species are vital components of a healthy ecosystem. Deer and other prey evolved with predators and as such, wildlife biologists neither regard predators as undesirable, nor do they view them as a significant threat to healthy game populations.
The Fish & Wildlife Department works hard to dispel the myths and soften the publics attitude towards predators in general. Coyotes are expected to continue to thrive in Vermont into the future so as we work to conserve all species of wildlife in Vermont, the coyote too, will be included for the valuable role that it serves.