Coyote Control Based on Scientific House of Cards
Complaint Seeks to End Federal Reliance on Flawed 42-Year-Old Study
Washington, DC — Federal strategy and funding for coyote control efforts are all rooted in one inaccurate, speculative, and outmoded 1975 study, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a coalition of groups, and top scientists in the field. They are demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cease relying on this study, stop distributing it to state agencies, and issue a public notice announcing these actions.
Lethal removal of coyotes is America’s predominant means of control, with USDA’s Wildlife Services reporting that it had eradicated 76,859 coyotes in 2016 alone. For more than 40 years, the main scientific support offered to justify coyote eradication is a 1975 USDA-funded study.
Should this complaint succeed it may result in a significant reduction in the number and scope of coyote extermination efforts across the U.S. and could induce government agencies to employ recent peer-reviewed research in formulating canid control policies.
“This hoary study has been inappropriately Xeroxed forward for decades,” stated PEER Counsel Adam Carlesco, citing recurrent use of the study just a few months ago. “In addition to all of its other flaws, the study recommends against precisely what it is used to support – large-scale coyote exterminations.”
Under requirements of the Information Quality Act, federal scientific work must be of the highest integrity, objectivity, and completeness. By filing a complaint under that statute, the groups are pressing USDA to stop using this study or distributing it, as it has done to many state game agencies. The complaint points out that –
- The 1975 study was never peer-reviewed, as USDA guidelines require, and was based on data the authors concede were “largely speculative” admitting that “[i]n most areas we simply do not know how the control kill relates to the size of the population, or even whether coyote numbers are increasing or decreasing”;
- The study’s central conclusion that extermination increases the size of coyote litters is empirically contradicted by numerous, more recent, heavily-documented, peer-reviewed studies; and
- USDA continues to ignore a growing body of scientific literature on the effectiveness of non-lethal means of preventing coyote predation on domestic livestock and the biological necessity of carnivore populations in stabilizing regional ecosystems.
“By continuing to peddle this inappropriate research, USDA is engaged in a deliberate and indefensible fraud,” added Carlesco, noting that the 1975 study on western coyotes is also being used to justify elimination of different populations of canids, such as the eastern coyote, or “coywolf” – a hybridized subspecies with only roughly 60% shared genetics with western coyotes. “This study endures only because it serves to justify Wildlife Services’ default approach – killing without further consideration.”
Under its Information Quality Act guidelines, USDA is supposed to make a decision on this complaint within 60 days. If it rejects the complaint, the groups may appeal, thereby triggering a requirement that USDA create a panel of experts to make a final decision.
Seventeen organizations have joined this complaint, including Project Coyote, Predator Defense, The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the U.S., The Animal Legal Defense Fund, International Fund for Animal Welfare, The National Wolfwatcher Coalition and the Western Watersheds Project. A number of wildlife specialists, including Dr. Jane Goodall and numerous scientists who are among the North America’s top canid researchers, have also signed the complaint.