As a young boy growing up in North Carolina, the only coyotes I saw were on the pages of magazines. There was not any known evidence of coyotes in the state way back then. Sitting around deer camps, after my dad felt I was responsible enough to handle guns and hunt with him, I do not recall any mention of coyotes.
Fast forward to now, coyotes are now all over North Carolina and the south. Research studies and articles are now available discussing the spread of coyotes. These articles have revealed the effects of an increasing coyote population in the south and elsewhere. Below, I have included a variety of article snippets and titles with links.
Only in the last ten or so years have I taken an increasing interest in how predators affect big game populations. I think any hunter who has hunted at Vandenberg AFB the last twenty years will tell you they have seen a continual decrease in the big game population on base. However, this decrease is not limited to the base. It is a statewide issue. Not only do coyotes kill wildlife, there is an increasing number of reports of small pets being killed and taken in urban areas.
It is my opinion that the decrease in the big game population is not limited to an increase of predators on base. I think this problem has reached a critical condition and it is a result of a combination of factors. Foremost, I believe that many years of poor game management such as overkill of big game plays a significant part in the decrease on base. However, in recent years, due to the former policy of not killing coyotes on base, the lack of predator control is one reason for such poor numbers. Perhaps the recent drought has made some impact on the game population, but I am not convinced of that at Vandenberg. I hunted and surveyed along the Santa Ynez River, where water remained, the last two years and the once abundance of deer are significantly reduced. I did not see any evidence of recent feral hogs in the river valley.
I have seen it with my own eyes. In 2015 on general deer hunting season opening morning, I was horrified by coyotes attacking a doe as I watched it through my binoculars at a distance of 450 yards in hunting district B4. The doe was rearing up on her hind legs and trying stomp one of the coyotes. The doe ran into the reeds with a couple of coyotes trailing behind. That was the last I saw them.
The coyote is not the only predator on base that is affecting the big game population. More than half of California is prime mountain lion habitat. Generally speaking, mountain lions can be found wherever deer are present, since deer are a mountain lion's main food source. Foothills and mountains and most suitable mountain lion habitat, while valleys and deserts are considered unsuitable. In recent years, based on my sightings and foot track evidence, and talking with several Vandy hunters, there could be about a dozen mountain lions venturing in and out of Vandenberg. That could account for over 600 dear killed a year on and near the Base. Three lions were killed by cars on base in 2019. Mountain lions have definitely become a significant threat to big game populations on base. Since the passing of Proposition 117 in 1990, mountain lion hunting ended in California. The California Fish and Wildlife last estimates (outdated) state there are 6,000 mountain lions. I think that is grossly underestimated.
On February 29, 2020, I attended a mandatory orientation and training by the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife to teach me the techniques for surveying the population of bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel mountains. At this orientation, the wildlife biologist shared his concern about the mountain lion population in the San Gabriel mountains. He stated that the lions have pretty much wiped out the mule deer and have started killing bighorn sheep.
The chart below shows a deer population trend in California. Read more here.
Here is a chart from the California Fish and Wildlife. Read more here.
In California’s hunting zone A, the estimated deer population has dropped 40.9% since 2013.
“A recent study conducted by the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains has revealed that deer constitutes a major portion of the Mountain Lion’s diet, almost 94%. Other research shows that Mountain Lions kill at least one deer a week. They require 8-10lbs of meat per day because of their inability to consistently store fat. Statistics have shown that Mountain Lions are successful in 1 out of 2 attempts to kill a deer. This indicates that their success rate is at 50%. This contrasts most California hunters who have an average success rate of only 15%. Mountain Lions also kill 3.4 bucks for every doe they kill.” Read more here.
“All the fawns were healthy at time of capture, and their size and weight were comparable to those of fawns from other mule deer herds. During the 7 years of the study, fawn survival ranged from 13% to 42% and averaged 38%. Two percent were killed in accidents, 9% died from disease or birth defects, and predators were responsible for the deaths of 51% of the fawns. Of those taken by predators 3% were killed by bobcats, 22% by bears, 27% by coyotes, and 49% by mountain lions.” Read more here.
"Our deer are surviving, they're not thriving," said Craig Stowers, deer program manager at California Fish and Game. "Quite frankly, until people start taking this seriously, we're going to continue to experience these types of declines." Read more here.
“We know it’s very rare for coyotes to depredate the eggs of ground-nesting birds, but they don’t do a near good enough job controlling major nest predators, either. Small mammals produce so many offspring, coyotes just can’t keep up to have any significant impact on their numbers,” he says. Read more here.
“During the booming fur industry, the southeast had no coyotes and a high deer density. Now in some high-density locations previously having 50+ deer per square mile, deer are rarely seen. The U.S. Government has to kill over 90,000 coyotes yearly because of stock predation.” Read more here.
"Wildlife research depends on people like you. That’s why so many scientists reach out to the hunting and trapping community. If you want to help out with wildlife conservation as a citizen scientist, consider joining various sportsmen’s groups like state trappers and fur takers associations. Pay attention to various hunting forums, too. Biologists will sometimes post a request for help." Read more here.
Why We Still Kill Cougrs (The Sacramento Bee, 3 Nov 17)
There are numerous studies proving that uncontrolled numbers of predators do affect the big game population. A simple Google search turns up plenty of articles. Next time someone says that predators are not a problem or killing them would be ineffective and detrimental to overall wildlife management objectives, feel free to appropriately respond—then refer them to this page for starters.
The Vandenberg AFB game management problems are multifaceted. I hope to see a more cooperative effort between base officials and hunters to ensure improved hunting opportunities at VAFB now and into the future. I do not think it is possible to wipe out all the predators nor is it necessary. However, there must be a controlled balance of all wildlife—that is a mandate since the creation of the humankind.
Finally, one thing that must be done is to reverse the damage that has been caused by Proposition 117 passed in 1990 and once again allow hunters to manage the out of control mountain lion population. I have written every appropriate state official and politician about this problem. I encourage you to do so too. Find your California State Assembly and Senate District member here.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26 NIV
Even God knew animal conservation is required to control the wildlife populations. When wildlife is left to their own and uncontrolled, it will lead to animal and environment devastation and extinction of some species.
Do you know of a good article or study link to add? Send it to Dave.
Disclaimer: This Website is not affiliated with nor sanctioned by Vandenberg Air Force Base or the Department of the Defense. Funding, development and maintenance of this Website is provided solely by club member David Gray for informational purposes only. All corrections, updates and recommendations are welcome. This website domain was established on 1 August, 2008.