Pennsylvania’s coyotes: stocked predators or wild immigrants?
Was there a second shooter on the grassy knoll who killed John F. Kennedy? Did the government recover a UFO in Roswell? Was the moon landing fake?
Those conspiracy theories make for good conversation.
But, for the love of Princess Diana-pursuing paparazzi, they have nothing on this one.
For nearly 30 years, people have wondered: did the Pennsylvania Game Commission release coyotes into the state’s countryside to control the deer herd?
The question came up again when commission executive director Matt Hough was giving his annual report to the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee on Wednesday.
Rep. William Kortz of Allegheny County said he hunts deer each year in Greene County. This past fall, he and the other hunters who lease a particular piece of property saw an inordinate number of coyotes.
Several people asked him if there was any truth to the stocking idea.
“That’s the rumor out there,” Kortz said.
He asked Hough if it’s true.
The short answer, Hough said, is no. The commission has never released coyotes into the wild. Those that are here moved into the state naturally and have since filled an available niche, he added.
But – and here’s where this story got its legs – it did once get its hands on one coyote that has become the stuff of legend.
Back in about the late 1980s or so, the commission received complaints about a coyote or coyotes preying on sheep in Greene County, Hough said. The commission’s wildlife conservation officer there at the time, now retired, managed to catch one.
It was a young coyote, Hough said. That suggested it was part of a family group.
Rather than just eliminate that animal alone, the officer put a radio collar on it in the hopes that he could track it back to its den. Then, the thinking was, he could “eliminate the problem” all at once, Hough said.
He also – in a logical decision that’s proven vexing since — put a tag bearing the commission’s name in its ear.
“It was a bobcat tag, number 00045,” Hough said.
Things didn’t go as planned. The coyote managed to shed the radio collar. The ear tag remained, however.
And when, a while later, a trapper caught the coyote, still sporting a Game Commission identifier in its ear, the stocking legend was born, Hough said.
“That was the only one we ever trapped and handled, to my knowledge. But we’ve never, ever stocked coyotes,” he added.