​​​2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Episode 11: Coyotes
22 June 2018
Coyotes are amazingly adaptable and resilient, and despite all attempts to wipe them out, they have not only survived, but thrived.

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JENNY>> Welcome to Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Now here’s your host, Gary Robson:
LES>> What are we talking about for today, Gary?

GARY>> Well, if you have been outside after dark around here, you've heard this song. You know what we're talking about today.

[Coyotes howling]

LES>> When I think about this, I think about — T.J. was taking a trip to her brother's wedding and left on Big Sky Airlines. That's what she was sent off with. It was just like that! It was kind of funny. They're giving you a bark salute as you fly out.

GARY>> There you go! Virtually every one of the plains Indian tribes has a mythology about the coyote — the coyote trickster — they have loved and revered them, and the settlers coming in here from Europe were unaware of the existence of these critters. When they first encountered coyotes, they looked at them and said, what are those things? They called them "prairie wolves," and promptly set out to wipe them out. When the settlers got here, coyotes lived pretty much just in the Western plains. The Rocky Mountain states: Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah...

They set out to wipe them out. They were afraid of them for themselves and for their animals.

LES>> Their kids, probably. And yeah, animals.

GARY>> Eventually, the government, the USDA, set up a program in 1915. They budgeted $125,000, which was a lot of money back then, for strychnine to wipe out wolves, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, bears , and eagles —

LES>> — Oh yeah? —

GARY>> — in the American West. By 1934, the USDA's annual report specifically said their goal is total extermination of the coyote in the United States. They still kill 2.4 million a year, of which about 120,000 of them are predators. We spend $115 million doing that. Generally the cost of the government killing a coyote is greater than the cost of replacing anything that coyote may have killed.

One of the reasons that these programs have not only failed, but failed in a spectacular way — coyotes now occupy the whole United States (all of the lower 48) coast to coast, they're actually more populous in Florida than they were in some of the Western states originally.

LES>> I can see it now, more popular in Florida than in Montana!

GARY>> They're all over Canada, all over Mexico. When they're singing...

[Coyotes howling]

GARY>> ...they're checking the local population. When the coyotes feel threatened, they reproduce. And instead of having one litter per year with three or four pups, they'll have two litters a year with five to seven pups each. They're organized in a pack structure like wolves are: they have an alpha pair and only the alpha pair breeds. Then the rest of the pack helps to raise the pups. If one of the alpha pair is killed, all of the coyotes in the pack breed.

When I was a kid, I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. We had a bounty on coyotes. Back in those days, that $25 was pretty significant money you'd get for dropping off a coyote at the Sheriff's office.

LES>> I have stories where my grandfather shot them out of an airplane. 

GARY>> And almost everywhere where they've done those bounty programs, the populations have gone up rather than down. They've also succeeded in places where they have pushed down the coyote population — their main prey is rodents, rabbits, groundhogs. What they do is raise the population of all of the pests because they coyotes aren't there to control them.

One of the methods they've been using for the last hundred years are leg traps and strangle traps and so on. I think all of know someone who's had a dog caught in one of those. The coyote's been an amazingly resilient animal. All attemps to eradicate them have just succeeded in making them more populous and spreading them out wider across the continent.

LES>> Now we can probably see coyotes at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary?

GARY>> You can! And in fact, Bonnie, our seventeen-year-old coyote up there, she has been around for almost twice what a coyote in the wild would live, just because of the good vet care, the good food, and the lack of other animals trying to eat her.

LES>> All right. Sounds good.

JENNY>> Thanks for joining us for Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, Montana. This podcast updates every Friday on iTunes , YellowstoneEcosystem.com , and the Sanctuary’s website, YellowstoneWildlifeSanctuary.org.

Thanks to our recording partners at FM99: the Mountain , where you can hear this show live every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m.

I’m your announcer, Jenny Van Ooyen, and I hope you’ll join me next week for another episode of Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem!

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