With a custom-barreled 1985 shotgun strapped to the roof of his Polaris Ranger ATV, Tim Fish carts down washboard dirt roads on a ranch south of Casper, scanning the cresting ridges for rogue coyotes.

If he sees one, he’s going to shoot it.

“After 20 years of being in here, you get a feel for what’s going on,” Fish, a 25-year veteran coyote trapper, said as he maneuvered unmarked paths with GPS in one hand and steering wheel in the other.

“It takes a coyote to get a coyote,” he said, grinning.

Coyotes are creatures of habit, Fish said, which makes tracking them a methodical process. Spotting even half a paw print is enough evidence to make Fish reach for his toolbox and assemble an M-44 — a trapping device that launches a lethal dose of sodium-cyanide into the nostrils of any curious coyote who takes a bite.

One of three full time trappers contracted by Natrona County’s Predator Management District, Fish spends most of his days pounding the cyanide pellets into the dry Wyoming ground. He splits office hours between ranches like this one and his less-than-fragrant snare-lined garage. His customers are mostly livestock producers, and his product is an efficient, professional means of killing coyotes.

“I hate to see an animal really suffer,” Fish said. “If I have to kill something, I want it to die as fast as humanly possible.”

Last year, Fish killed 101 coyotes on this ranch alone. Countywide, his total was 736. Together in fiscal year 2012, Natrona County’s three trappers killed 1,568 coyotes.

Fish, who grew up trapping on a cattle ranch in Arizona, said battling coyotes “just goes with the territory.”

Most ranchers would agree. Each of the approximately 10,900 sheep reportedly killed by coyotes in Wyoming last year meant dollars drained from ranchers’ pockets. The National Agricultural Statistic Service estimated that coyote sheep kills alone robbed Wyoming ranchers of $1.2 million in 2011.

‘Controversial by nature’

The Natrona County Predator Management District is one of 19 state-funded districts mitigating damage to livestock across Wyoming. Natrona County’s management district is comprised of sportsmen’s, cattle and sheep representatives, and is slated to receive more than $200,000 from the state in fiscal year 2013.

Judging from the district’s 2011 budget breakdowns, the majority of those dollars will likely go toward gunning down coyotes from helicopters and to paying the three contracted trappers’ salaries, which range from about $53,000 to $67,000.

Exterminating predators so livestock can thrive is a practice “controversial by nature,” according to Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Biologist Justin Binfet, who works with Natrona County’s Predator Management District to track coyote kills on mule deer and other big game fauna.

“Using public money to kill wildlife is simply unpalatable to some segments of the human population, and it always will be,” Binfet said.

Wyoming Woolgrowers Association Executive Vice President Bryce Reece said some people simply “don’t like the fact that we have to kill animals to protect our animals.”

But not controlling predators is not an option, said Reece, who estimates his organization represents about 90 percent of sheep herders across the state. For ranchers, predator control can range from guard dogs to alarm systems to fenced-in herds.

“You’ve got to do something to stop the killing,” he said.

For Fish, dealing with morally-charged lashes against his line of work comes with the job description. He once got a letter from Animal Liberation Front activists, alerting him that his name had been added to the organization’s national hit list. Unconcerned, he said he “wadded it up” and promptly tossed it in the trash.

“[Environmentalists] want to take man out of the food chain. I don’t think you can do that. He’s part of the earth, he lives here,” Fish said.

Other methods

Killing predators is expensive, labor-intensive work. A simple budget analysis suggests the Natrona County Predator Management Board paid an average of $136 per coyote killed in fiscal year 2012. For each coyote shot from an aircraft that year, the price tag was $192.

“It’s expensive work. It really is,” said Sy Gilliland, past-president of the Natrona County Predator Management Board.

And trappers, ranchers and wildlife biologists alike admit that harvesting coyotes from the same ranches year after year is not exactly a long-term solution; it doesn’t take long for new coyotes to move into an area recently cleared of coyotes by aerial gunning, set snares or M-44 devices.

But other non-lethal — and potentially more cost-effective — predator management methods are in the works in Wyoming.

University of Wyoming doctoral candidate Marjie MacGregor thinks reproductive control might be a more efficient way to manage coyotes, as opposed to today’s main practice of just killing them.

MacGregor is a lead researcher on a UW team developing a drug to permanently castrate male coyotes by stopping sperm production — an idea MacGregor said researchers have toyed with since the 1970s.

“We need some more effective long-term methods,” MacGregor said. “The problem with constantly removing coyotes is within a few months, coyotes move back into the territory.”

“If we can develop a tool where we can stop damage and not have to remove coyotes, that’s a win-win for everybody,” Wyoming Wildlife Services State Director Rod Krischke said. “But we just have not gotten there.”

Wyoming Wildlife Services supplied MacGregor with a first batch of live coyotes for her research, and Wyoming’s Animal Damage Management Board provided the initial funding.

Any reproductive drug would supplement — not altogether replace — lethal predator control, according to MacGregor.

“When things become so politically charged, we forget that it’s not one or the other,” MacGregor said.

Stink bait

“Put a little o’ this on your pancakes in the morning,” Fish says, grinning as he slathers a spoonful of a putrid, meat-based paste on the inch or so of the cyanide capsule sticking above ground. Fish calls it “coyote candy,” and its stench is truly foul.

His wife isn’t too happy about his residual odor, Fish said, and she laments the fact that she can never fully get the scent out of his coat. Co-workers poke fun at the stink that has taken residence in the upholstery of his truck, but his dutiful hunting dogs — Psycho and Scruffie — don’t seem to mind.

When Fish checks these M-44s next week, he hopes to find a dead coyote next to every stake. For the rancher who called Fish out to “clean up” his land, that’s a handful of fewer coyotes nibbling on pricey, unsuspecting sheep.

But for Fish — who will be back next year, and again the year after that — it’s just a few more tallies on his record books, and one more day on the job.

Reach county reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or leah.todd@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.

(8) comments

Gale

So Bryce Reese says, "You've got to do something to stop the killing."

Word

Kinda curious, why is public money being spent to control predators for private livestock owners? Just wondering.

Gale

Good point..especially in view of the fact that these "producers" already enjoy essentially free grazing on State & Federal lands, plus plenty of assistance in maintaining their allotments.

Cowboy Joe

It is but one of hundreds of government programs that need to be chopped. We need to quit hiding costs and randomly subsidizing some businesses, especially when the subsidy is on top of two or three others---cheap grazing fees on public lands, water projects, fencing etc...If the ranching industry had to actually pay their own costs they'd go out of business. Cattle ranchers on private land in the midwest and south must compete with socialists ranchers of the intermountain west. To make matters worse the taxes paid by public land ranchers go to offset their competition living on the public dime.

jporter1
jporter1

What a fine state of affairs man pursues in order to make the world fit his liking. I do not believe men were given the right to kill the creations of God. In Africa, we try and teach the natives to not kill the elephants as they are worth more alive than they are dead. It does not fit Governor Mead's higher status as a leader in allowing the killing of the native, free roaming animals that populate Wyoming, wildlife people will pay to see when they come to Wyoming. . Are we no better than the killers of elephants. All life is connected and when one part of life is murdered then all life suffers. And the argument that they kill live stock carries no weight. When you hit yourself in the head with a hammer, what do you do? How about removing the hammer......same with the livestock. They already have a head start by being allowed to have below market value in grazing rights when they really could be fenced in.
No desire to fight with the agricultural industry, just consider you are not making points for the hereafter. If you must kill something, Afghanistan is wide open. Jimmy

carlover

word that because they can. ever get curious look at wyoming budget, its a joke there are so many committee and sub committees doing the jobs of the ones we either elected or paid to do it, passing the buck to a committee of some sorts, people with poodles should not live near yellowstone but they do and ranchers should have only what they can afford to feed and take care of. but you if you want that pole barn, you need to kiss some serious arse or apply for a permit to feed your family, or wose yet. you need to pay the state to have chicken or horses? something smells...republicans by name only. wyoming by name only. welcome to the new world order. where if you want something, you have to grease the arse in front of you to get it.

smallcage

These are really excellent salaries for what they do...

Maggien

As far as I know public funds are used to stop crime in most state of the United States. Shop lifters, robbers and vandals are "controlled." with public money through law enforcement agencies, yet the crimes they commit are against private businesses and individuals. So for Wildlife Services to be publicly funded does not seem to be out of line with the idea that it is in the publics best intrest to have publically financed law enforcement to protect private businesses.

In the State of Montana, Wildlife Services (WS) is both publicaly and privately funded. There is 62% funding from the Federal Government. Livestock producers like others pay Federal income taxes, so part of that money is from livestock producers. The remaining funding for WS comes from a varity of sources.
In Montana a large portion of funding comes from the Department of Livestock. The Department of Livestock gets most of its money directly from livestock producers. There is a "per Capita" fee ( fee per animal) which is paid annually to the DOL from each livestock producer. There are also brand inspection fees which are charged to livestock producers when they sell or move their livestock across county lines. Out of this funding a set percent is paid each year to Wildlife Services.
Many of the Counties in Montana have sheep and/or cattle petitions. This is a fee that is paid annually on a voluntary bases for each head of livestock you own. This system was set up by the livestock producers and 100% of it goes to Wildlife Services. In addition when funding is low, livestock producers are required to pay a share of the costs to have the Wildlife Services fly to kill preditors.

Wildlife Services is also involved in protecting airports. WS works in many ways to keep flocks of birds out of airports air space. They also keep deer and other wildlife from the landing strips and taxi areas. They are usually the agency out there culvert trapping the bears that are getting into trouble or have chewed on a tourist or hunter.

Coyotes in Montana kill thousands of sheep and hundreds of calve each year. Livestock producers should have a right to protect their animals just as a retail store would have the right to protection of their goods.


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