Coyote concerns taken seriously

Councillors here may be in a no-win situation dealing with coyotes says Wellington Federation of Agriculture president David Parker.

“Personally I view this coyote issue as a no-win situation for you or for anyone.”

Parker said the issue is just one of those things where everyone does the best they can.

“We’re not going to win. It’s just one of those things. Nature is going to take over.”

Parker wrote to council recently regarding concerns over livestock damage caused by coyotes.

That letter noted a recent article in the Wellington Advertiser concerning coyote damage to livestock was brought to the attention of the Wellington Federation of Agriculture by a number of farmers and non-farmers alike.

“We appreciate the opportunity to clarify the situation of livestock losses to wildlife.”

Parker stated “To be clear, Ontario farmers are avid supporters of preserving wildlife. The record of Ontario farmers for investing in the environment is strong, and participation in the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) by farmers is proof.”

He explained that since 2005, Ontario farmers have invested $270-million in environmental improvements through the EFP.

Parker added that some of those improvements address the conflicts with wildlife by building predator fences and making purchases of livestock guardian animals such as sheep dogs, llamas, and donkeys.

“Wellington North’s farmers have been active participants in the Environmental Farm Plan program.”

Further, he said that Wellington County farmers are strong supporters of the other environmental protection initiatives, such as the Rural Water Quality Program.

The first decade of this program has produced over 1,200 projects. The City of Guelph and County of Wellington have contributed over $2.8-million during that decade, and farmers and rural landowners have more than matched that generosity by adding to those funds and completing over $12.5-million in environmental improvements.

Parker added that many of those projects have involved retiring fragile lands and fencing off watercourses to create vegetative buffers – all very good projects for enhancing wildlife environment.

“Therefore, farmers care deeply about preserving nature for all of society to enjoy. Farmers willingly share in a social and ecological partnership that helps them protect their livelihood while preserving the natural environment for present and future generations.”

But, Parker said “Farmers often carry the majority of the burden when it comes to wildlife.”

He cited a recent update of the impact of wildlife on Ontario agriculture, the George Morris Centre conservatively estimated losses by farmers at $41-million annually.

“The loss of sheep to predators (mostly coyotes) has increased by nearly 50% in the last decade according to the report,” Parker said.

“Livestock farmers cannot afford to be victimized by wild predators.”

He noted that once threatened by predators, farmers do have a number of wildlife management options. A combination of guardian animals, predator fencing, or confinement is routine for livestock producers in the area.

The issue, he said, is that “as predator populations in–crease and adapt, however, these measures will fail from time to time.”

He said farm organizations like the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and the livestock commodity groups have been very active in recent years on this file.

Parker said that in 2009, the OFA Predator Task Team made specific recommendations that would allow for more precise control of nuisance coyotes. “These are reasonable requests used in other jurisdictions and the farm organizations will persist with these requests until a reasonable response is received from the provincial government.

“As a last resort, the farm communities across Ontario appreciate the long standing foresight of the provincial government in providing programs that help balance the needs of food production with the needs of preserving the natural environment.”

Specifically, Parker said, the provincial government provides leadership on this matter through the Livestock, Poultry and Honey Bee Protection Act, 1990, which establishes how livestock producers may be compensated by the provincial government through their local municipalities for losses due to wildlife damage. This program is funded provincially, with only a nominal administrative contribution requested from municipalities.

“This is not a significant burden on municipal taxpayers compared to over $41-million lost by farmers every year due to wildlife damage.”

Parker stated, “In fact the levels of compensation in this program have not changed in over a decade. As well compensation levels are based on market values and have never accounted for losses of higher value breeding stock.”

In conclusion, Parker said the WFA would like to assure the councillors that there’s no “free lunch” for farmers in, this program. Similarly, we want to assure the council that Wellington North farmers are not slow to take all reasonable actions prevent their livestock from becoming an “all you can eat” buffet for coyotes.”

Parker stressed, “I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not going to say that I do.”

Councillor Dan Yake asked for clarification on the comment of this being a no-win situation for anyone.

“Do we just carry on status quo?”

Parker said, “I’ll be honest with you, the demographics of the province are changing.”

As a result, he said if a young person wants to get involved in agriculture today, the only hope is to try and meet those changing demographics.

He said young people do not have the finances to spend the millions needed to get in–volved in traditional supply management.

But, Parker said, if you travel to Mississauga or through Toronto “You’ll understand there’s an ethnic diveristy changing there that will never eat pork. The end result is that there are a lot of people who want to eat lamb and sheep.”

Parker said “If a young farmer is smart and wants to meet that market, there’s a chance he can make a good living at it.”

But, he said, “The more sheep there is, the more chance there is of preditors. It’s a no-win and a vicious cycle,” he said.

As a result, Parker advocated council stick with the status quo.

He suggested if one male coyote is killed, “There will be a dozen come to the funeral arguing over who will become the next alpha male – that’s nature.”

Yake responded, “That’s a fair answer and I appreciate that.”

He explained this is an issue council has struggled with over the past few years. “We needed someone to come here to explain the whole situation.”

Councillor John Matusinec said, “We didn’t know if we were doing enough because there were all these claims.”

He said the question raised was if council is progressive enough to deal with the problem, or if the problem itself is getting worse.

Parker commented another issue is the Dead Stock Act.

“Legally, we’re very re–stricted as to how we can remove sheep. The dead stock people will not pick them up,” Parker said.

As a result, a lot of dead sheep get buried two feet un–derground.

“A coyote can easily dig two feet.”

He said if the Dead Stock Act could be changed, there might be an option.

“But if you can eliminate the dead stock from the neighbourhood, the coyotes might not take a shine to the flavour of lamb or mutton.”

Matusinec asked if the number of attacks is growing across the county.

Parker did not have the answer.

However, his own experience in Centre Wellington, he was not seeing it.

As for concerns raised about potential coyote attacks on people or children, Parker considered it unlikely, based on his own experience.

He suggested if that was the case, the bigger issue might be rabies.

Parker offered what he stressed was a “tongue in cheek response” and suggested if the Ministry of Natural Resources can drop boxes of rabies vaccine into areas to prevent the spread.

“If they could drop off something like saltpeter … maybe that would stop it,” Parker said.