COYOTE UGLY: Wyoming’s legacy of brutality

By on March 19, 2013

Part 2 in a series:

Wildlife Services was known as Animal Damage Control from 1895 to 1997. Its primary statutory authorities now stem mainly from the 1931 Animal Damage Control Act. In 1995, President Clinton moved the agency from the Department of the Interior back to its current nesting as part of the United States Department of Agriculture, where it had been prior to 1939.

In addition to wolf and coyote mitigation, Wildlife Services is the agency usually called in by big city mayors with pigeon problems, farmers with flooding issues caused by busy beavers, or airport managers who are plagued with bird strikes. Numerous pest-control companies have questioned why government is so involved with problems that could be handled best by the private sector.

He hate me

Wildlife Services, a division of APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), seems to be spinning its wheels when it comes to its all-out assault on coyotes. Between 2000 and 2010, the agency killed nearly a million coyotes in protecting the powerful wool industry.

A National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) found that coyotes nationwide killed an estimated 135,600 sheep in 2010. WS removed 90,000 coyotes that same year. Wildlife biologist Franz Camenzind and wolf expert Carter Niemeyer are not alone in believing sheep and cattle depredation attributed to coyotes and wolves is blown out of proportion.

CUTLINE: Franz Camenzind CREDIT: Courtesy

CUTLINE: Franz Camenzind
CREDIT: Courtesy

“I don’t think there is much question it is over-reported,” Camenzind said. “Look, there’s no question some coyotes will kill sheep and they need to be removed. And I feel for these ranchers. They have no control over the market and have a hard time finding help. It’s tough for them and their back is up against the barb wire fence. They can’t shoot the weather and the bank. The one thing they can put their crosshairs on is the coyote.”

For years, cattle ranchers were compensated by Defenders of Wildlife for confirmed wolf kills (the government now reimburses ranchers) – an arrangement that virtually guaranteed the wolf would be blamed for nearly every livestock loss.

“Early in my career I noticed there was a casualness about investigating suspected wolf kills. There was no oversight and no major concern if someone made a mistake,” Niemeyer said. “I noticed a real change with the [wolf reintroduction]. More accountability followed. It was my commitment to do these depredation investigations very, very carefully because the wolf issue had a lot of sensitivity. You had ranchers on one side, worried you were protecting the wolves and others who thought you were just trying to kill off all the wolves. I learned early on that I had to do complete, detailed, necropsy investigations with photos and be prepared to defend my results.”

Sheep depredation numbers continue to trend down – mostly because the industry is in decline – while the coyote population is larger than it was when man arrived on the continent.

In one instance, WS spent approximately $550,000 to kill 967 coyotes and 45 mountain lions on an eight-year project in northwest Nevada aimed at protecting the mule deer herd. No improvement in the mule deer population was noted. Estimates of the coyote population showed their numbers as strong as ever.

Photo cutline: Coyote-killing tournaments held throughout the West award prize money for the shooter with the biggest body count. Photo credit: Knuckledraggin my life away blogspot.

CUTLINE: Coyote-killing tournaments held throughout the West award prize money for the shooter with the biggest body count.
CREDIT: Knuckledraggin My Life Away blogspot.


In FY2011, Wyoming WS killed a total of 15,651 animals ranging from bats and starlings to porcupines and raccoons – 8,069 of the carcasses were coyotes. They were exterminated by any means available including trapping, poisoning, and aerial gunning. Hostilities were waged often with no instance of predation or science-based ecological methodology.

Live and let live

“There are numerous studies that show that not only does hunting the coyote have no effect on their numbers but they thrive under pressure, and populations rebound to fill the vacuum whenever the coyote is persecuted. It’s well-ensconced in science,” said Camilla Fox, executive director of Project Coyote, a nonprofit concerned for the welfare of coyotes.

Study after study shows the harder the coyote is hit, the more it bounces back. Under heavy pressure, coyotes will mate at an earlier age and have larger, healthier litters. By most estimates, reducing the population would require killing 75 percent of the population for years. Even WS admits it whacks only 18 to 29 percent on a good year.

In fact, Camenzind says the indiscriminate slaughter of coyotes throws the ecosystem into disorder and creates more problem dogs.

“Leave them alone when they are behaving themselves, especially if there is something else for them to eat. Quite often, coyotes near sheep herds will ignore them when they have plenty of rabbits and other small game,” Camenzind said. “Killing just to kill will get you another coyote moving into that space who may not know the rules.”

Research shows violent disruption to coyote populations causes packs to splinter, allowing younger males to breed, a charge usually reserved for the alpha male only. The absence of a hierarchical structure results in an increase in population. These new coyote packs require new territory and the expansion creates even more problems down the road.

“When I was working for them there was this obsession with killing coyotes,” Niemeyer said. “A majority of coyote kills made by Wildlife Services are preventative in nature, not in response to any predation. There are huge tracts of public lands nowhere near sheep where Wildlife Services flies simply because they have access to that land. I don’t see the sense of it. It’s not harmful to the coyote population. It stimulates reproduction. What is the taxpayer getting for all this? You can have coyotes that live around sheep that won’t kill them. They find rabbits and mice. You absolutely don’t want to keep the environment in chaos.”

Camenzind said, “A study done by Bob Cranford in a remote area of Oregon where there was no human interference at all because it was near a nuclear facility closed to the public showed coyotes were not even reproducing some years because the population was so stable. In other years, the litter size was real low and density held steady. The coyotes there had met their carrying capacity and were self-regulating their population.”

Tactical termination

The bill for its war on wildlife runs WS about $160 million, budgeted annually. Approximately half is taxpayer money and half is cooperative funds coming from cattle and sheep associations and private ranches.

In FY2011, Wildlife Services shot (1,409), snared (690), trapped (232), gassed (192), and poisoned (172), coyotes in Wyoming. By far, its favorite method of extermination was aerial shooting. Wyoming WS gunned down 4,762 ‘yotes from fixed wing aircraft and 177 more from helicopter.

CUTLINE: Aerial gunning is costly and dangerous.  CREDIT: Howling for Justice

CUTLINE: Aerial gunning is costly and dangerous.
CREDIT: Howling for Justice

Aerial gunning is projected to cost the agency in the range of $700 to $1,000 an hour. Defenders of Wildlife estimated the average cost of killing one coyote is approximately $1,000. Strader says aerial gunning, while an effective way to kill, is wasteful and dangerous. Since 1979, 10 hunters have been killed in crashes.

While the widespread use of poisons was banned in 1972, Wildlife Services is exempt. It continues to use controversial M-44s (sodium cyanide) and Compound 1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate) to help wipe out coyotes. M-44s (once marketed under the name “Coyote Getters”) are baited cyanide capsules that are fired into a coyote’s mouth when it pulls on a trip trigger. As with traps, M-44s don’t know what’s pulling on them. A 1997 study of their use in Utah by APHIS found M-44s attracted 94 deer, 44 raccoons, and a total of nine coyotes.

Wildlife Services insists poisoned carcasses fed upon by other birds and mammals will not normally harm scavengers.

Compound 1080 has no known antidote. It is lethal enough that Homeland Security had to sign off on its use by WS. The liquid cyanide is loaded into collars worn by sheep so that when a coyote bites the neck of the stock it poisons itself. The delivery method is a smart way to target only problem coyotes and wolves but, again, some ecologists worry about toxic carcasses.

Century-old agency brutal and secretive

Wildlife Services’ stated mission is science-based predator control activities. Niemeyer, who once worked for the department, said that’s a load of bunk. “They’re in the killing business, period,” he said.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, has long accused Wildlife Services of using a mostly lethal approach to “managing” wildlife. He is joined by dozens of wildlife activists, including WildEarth Guardians, which believe there is a better way to mitigate rancher-carnivore conflicts.

In addition to its heavy-handed approach, WS has also been accused of being less than transparent. Much of the agency’s day-to-day operations are tightly guarded. In response to the Olson incident, Congressmen John Campbell (California), and Peter DeFazio (Oregon), drafted a letter to Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, asking for a top-to-bottom review of the rogue agency. Issa denied the request.

CUTLINE: The coyote has received little respect.  CREDIT: Project Coyote

CUTLINE: The coyote has received little respect.
CREDIT: Project Coyote

Calls to the WS Wyoming office in Casper were fruitless. The state director, Rod Krischke, said he could not comment on the disposition of the Olson case – now five months old – and the decision was out of his hands. Olson, meanwhile, has changed his cell phone number and could not be reached.

Carol Bannerman, national spokesperson for APHIS/WS, confirmed the investigation is ongoing and in the meantime Olson is still working as a Wildlife Services employee. She said the investigation is being conducted internally. That means Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES) is working the case. Administrator Greg Parham admitted his department has such a backlog (more than 2,000 cases) that it “cannot swiftly address even serious violations.”

Rep. Campbell said his office will not let WS off the hook and continues to pressure the department. “They are unbelievable. We are not getting anything out of  them,” Campbell said. “It’s amazing how closed this agency is. The military is way easier than this; they will at least tell you what they are doing and why. It furthers my suspicion that this is a group that covers for one another and has something to hide.”

Campbell remains undeterred. “We haven’t given up, I can tell you that. We will continue to press them. We got a few tricks up our sleeves yet. We aren’t going away.”

About Jake Nichols

Jake is a work in progress.


  1. peg

    March 20, 2013 at 11:39 am

    this is a crime and inhumane,the trapping makes me irate,would love to do it to them.i sign petitions and pray that one day this will end and we all can live in peace and respect these animals as our ancestors,the indians did

  2. Kat Brekken

    March 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    The brutality of this is appalling to many people, who have more sense and understand the need for predators in the environment. This sort of thing will effect tourism in Wyoming. I know, because I hear from tourists about it everyday. Some will never return because of how coyotes and wolves have been treated here. The public and science can’t seem to reach the bought off politicians who have the power to stand up against the special interest groups of hunting and ranching. The whole world is watching. Awareness of back room deals are reaching the media and people are not pleased. Millions of ecotourism dollars will stop coming in to the communities surrounding the National Parks, if this kind of thing doesn’t stop. There are many people, who are willing to help the ranchers ranch with predator friendly methods. It could become a win-win situation, if given half a chance. I own and proudly wear a predator friendly certified wool hat. If others can do this, then why continue to murder animals for no other reason than blood thirst?

  3. Julia Michell

    March 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    …and with tax-payers money to boot! Shame!

  4. jean-marc Schepens

    March 21, 2013 at 4:02 am

    many ,many years ago I have been very welkom in a ranch near to Cheyenne in Wyoming.
    I had a so warm welkom and had a nice staying by those people.
    BUT NOW I certainely never come back in a such cruel country, so bad for the nice wildlife; every living animals have the right to be in the nature and the Humans people have to share the Earth with them.
    Sorry I will choice an other part of the world for my vacations !
    Jean-Marc SCHEPENS Geneva, Switzerland

  5. lisa robertson

    March 23, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Thank you Jake and Planet Jackson Hole for addressing these issues that most people aren’t aware, or turn away from with a blind eye. Only by raising public awareness can we challenge this unnecessary wildlife “management”, and work for change. Trapping in Wyoming has very few regulations, with no setbacks off public trails, unlimited trap sizes, 72 hour trap checks, every single day of the year. This we Can change, while continuing to educate the public about the inhumane and barbaric methods of hunting/trapping in our state. Perhaps one day, there will be an END to trapping in Wyoming!

  6. lisa robertson

    March 23, 2013 at 9:15 am

    AND, perhaps there will be an end to wildlife-killing agencies such as Wildlife Services. These funds could then be used to focus on living animals, wild and free and untrapped!

  7. JeanR.

    March 24, 2013 at 7:15 am

    I am afraid this is the tip of the iceberg. It will be interesting to see what other abuses will surface when the light is shown on other Gov. agencies and their practices.

  8. varmint spotter

    March 27, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    I love this line.

    “Numerous pest-control companies have questioned why government is so involved with problems that could be handled best by the private sector.”

    He he, are you advocating bounty hunting?

    Probably some sort of legislative fix for the entire US is the only fix that will work. Classified as Varmint everywhere.

  9. LoboLuvr

    March 28, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Interesting parallel…it was a Government agency that delt with the “Indian problem” in the west, and forced them off their Reservations because “we” wanted the land to exploit. Some things never change, do they? The old saying “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” has been replaced with “The only good coyote/wolf is a dead coyote/wolf”. And um, the only “Bounty Hunting” that should EVER be allowed is that placed on the heads of human killers! PICK ME! I’d LOVE to be a human bounty hunter! And they shoot back – how sporting is that, all you idiot hunters/trappers?!

  10. HansW

    March 29, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    First oiff one should make sure that Issa will not be reelected. Next one should hit Wyoming where it hurts, namely tourism. Just stay out of that state. I know I will.

  11. Me

    March 29, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Seeing the pics above is exactly why I have more compassion for animals than humans. 9/11, Columbine, Sandy Utah all meant nothing to me and could care less but when I see pics like the ones above of those dead animals it breaks my heart and pisses me off. (yes i said it and i meant it)

  12. Elizabeth B

    March 30, 2013 at 1:21 am

    I grew up in Wyoming in a little town called Sundance, we were surrounded by wolves, coyotes, foxes, porcupines etc not once did these animals advance toward you they ran the other way. They only hunt to survive, they live as families much like we do, this senseless and inhumane. I would think that anyone who can kill that many animals with such disregard for life must be mentally ill, as are the people who have the bounty contests. Just to be clear I grew up hunting, but not once did I see animals killed for sport…this is changing my mind about all ranchers and hunters…

  13. Common Sence

    March 30, 2013 at 10:03 am

    MAybe Franz should have been with my FIL the day he went out to check his sheep and found 114 dead or dying— Better yet– If he doesn’t like the way we handle predators in Wyoming he should leave—

  14. Common Sence

    March 30, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Really if you had wolves in sundance why did they reintroduce them? I say your lying or stupid

  15. Iona Dickins

    April 27, 2013 at 1:34 am

    My sentiments too! Just been sending my message to Senator Jewell about ‘Delisting Wolves from Endangered Species’, and included the parallels you drew – thought I was being bit too blunt til I saw what you put out there. Thanks for making me feel supported! I’m from England, so not ‘in the thick of it’ as such, but I feel such a great connection with wolves. That’s the nub of it – humans and wolves have parallels, which, notably, Native Americans identify with and respect. But those humans who are antigonistic towards wolves, operate through envy and fear. Sad people who aren’t connected to the Greater Love which rules this Universe, but think that they can (or try to!)… Blessings to you

  16. WarHog

    October 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    As a hunter who loves animals far more than non hunters will ever understand, I can’t demonize people for being nature and critter lovers, the difference is that I see nature for what it is.
    Hunters are what keeps nature in balance, no government program or do-gooder, brain washed liberal with a camera can keep nature in balance like we do (hundreds of real game bioligist agree).
    Coyotes kill an enormous number of renewable food resources in nature such as mule deer fawn, rabbits, upland birds, new born calves, etc… Fact is coyotes breed like rats, accordingly, they must be controlled. They are in no danger of going extinct, but, my mule deer are…accordingly, I will manage their numbers on my property in order to keep them from killing your dogs, cats and my deer as appropriate. If that upsets you then thanks for visiting Wyoming and I would recommend Detroit as your next stop, I’m sure they’re are plenty of coyotes there now that you can take pictures of or be-friend. Just head east on I-80 or I-90… Bye-Bye!

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