Whitetails and pronghorns

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1998:

PORTLAND, Oregon––Just two
weeks after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
told ANIMAL PEOPLE in response to a
Freedom of Information Act request that it had
not held settlement talks with Friends of
Animals and the Predator Defense Institute re
their lawsuit against coyote-killing at the Julia
Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge in
southern Washington, the USFWS, FoA, and
PDI on November 17, 1997 jointly announced
an out-of-court settlement under which the
USFWS agreed to halt killing coyotes until at
least spring 1998, while writing “a supplemental
environmental impact assessment that
will analyze nonlethal alternatives for controlling
However, the original USFWS plan
called for killing coyotes only in spring and
early summer.

The refuge management blames
coyote predation for the failure of endangered
Columbia whitetailed deer to reproduce at an
optimum rate. Of 14 fawns who were radiocollared
by refuge biologists in spring 1996,
none survived the summer, and 10 were
allegedly killed by coyotes. In 1997, 17
fawns were radio-collared, 13 survived, and
only three were killed by coyotes, while nine
coyotes were snared and/or shot.
But both years the ratio of fawns
born to adult does appears to have been less
than a third the whitetailed deer norm. The
FoA/PDI suit argued that malnutrition is the
actual reason why the refuge has never been
able to sustain anywhere close to the target
deer population: the deer compete for forage
on the refuge with cattle, whose owners lease
grazing and hay removal rights. The cattle
outnumber the deer by as much as 10-1, and
are on average seven or eight times heavier.
In addition, the 1996 birthing season
followed heavy flooding at the refuge,
which stressed the already weakened deer herd
and tore away much of their cover.
“We have essentially bought a little
time and have no doubt that the refuge managers
will pursue the same course of action,”
PDI board member Brooks Fahy told A N IMAL
PEOPLE. An FoA press release said
FoA and PDI might “reopen the court case and
pursue further action if the USFWS fails to
permanently change its policy.”
The USFWS meanwhile issued
results of a two-year study blaming coyotes
for low pronghorn fawn survival at the Hart
Mountain National Antelope Refuge, near
Lakeview, Oregon. The study was done in
settlement of joint FoA/PDI suit against a
1995 plan to kill coyotes to protect pronghorn
fawns. On December 18, 1997 USFWS
announced plans to hold a “limited coyote
hunt” at Hart Mountain starting January 31.
PDI and the Oregon Natural Desert
Association said they would sue to stop it.
“Predation is normal,” Nevada
pronghorn researcher Jim Yoakum told
Portland Oregonian correspondent Gordon
Gregory. Yoakum has studied the Hart
Mountain pronghorns since 1952. “I don’t
know what the fear is,” Yoakum added.
However, hunting organizations
have hoped for years that the pronghorns
would proliferate to the point that they could
be more aggressively hunted, and local ranchers
who lease grazing rights on the refuge
openly hate coyotes.

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