One would expect coyotes to prey on ducks and their eggs. They do, but foxes are better duck hunters than coyotes. When coyotes are present, they keep fox numbers down. Studies by National Biological Survey research scientists found predator control programs that reduce coyote populations increase fox populations. The increase in foxes causes a greater reduction in duck production.
Many people support coyote control programs because they think it will reduce duck predation. Instead the increased fox population preys more heavily on ducks. At the same time, people support draining wetlands. Many wetland areas are drained or filled for farming or human habitation development. Wetlands are also filled to eliminate species we do not like such as mosquitoes. That reduces duck reproduction. Ducks Unlimited and other organizations work to establish conservation easements that restore drained wetlands and support programs that pay farmers to keep natural wetlands on their land. The Wetland east of Cedar Springs on 17 Mile Road is restored wetland that was drained for farming and has restored to the liking of waterfowl.
Loss of wetlands reduces spawning beds for fish like the northern pike. When pike decline, society spends money on hatcheries for restocking of pike. Poor land use decisions cost society more to maintain clean water, reduce flooding and to restore wildlife. The current proposed elimination of the Clean Water Rule by President Trump will have negative impacts on wildlife as well as community water of human use.
In Michigan’s past, predator control programs supported killing wolves. In locations where wolves and coyotes live in the same area, wolves kept coyote numbers low. Historically, coyotes were rare in Michigan.
Nature niches are finely tuned systems that function quite well until people decide to reshape them. When large predators live close to humans, there are occasions when they take the opportunity to kill domestic animals. It is more effective to control a specific wolf or coyote problem than to try to eliminate a population.
When coyotes are removed through predator control, ecologic/economic studies have found coyote’s social structure is damaged and rapid reproduction occurs. Rapidly increasing populations spread into new areas. Additional money is then needed for more extensive predator control. A cost/benefit analysis shows it is generally poor and ineffective to try to control coyote populations instead of handling a specific problem.
It does not seem to make common sense that coyotes help duck populations increase but they do by controlling fox population predation. It does not seem to make common sense that wolves strengthen deer herd health but they do by keeping the deer population from over browsing habitats and causing long-term habitat damage. Human population expansion also reduces duck populations by destroying critical habitat. Many attributed reduced duck populations to predators, when it is often caused by human population increase. Human altered habitats and draining wetlands is more harmful to the ducks than predators. We do notice a growing human population reduces other life on Earth.
Coyotes live in our area but usually are not excessively abundant. Foxes live in our area but are not abundant. Life is very hard for all wildlife. Most coyote pups never live a year.
Predator nature niches are complex systems. It is necessary to control particular individuals that interfere with our livelihoods but large scale predator programs are usually unproductive, wasteful of life and money.
As a society, we have not recognized the positive role of predatory mammals like coyotes and wolves. Public understanding has gradually increased its understanding for how nature niches function. Public policy has not kept pace to reflect healthy land management but positive changes are gradually being implemented. Emotions usually trump research-based evidence and practices.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.