Earl Keough was troubled at what he found amongst the hills of the Great Northern Peninsula.
During a snowmobile trip, the Parson’s Pond outfitter discovered the dismembered carcass of a caribou, attacked and eaten by coyotes.
The site may have been gory but there’s nothing atypical about coyote predation of caribou; what concerned Keough is the impact the predator is having on the population of caribou.
He felt here, amongst the hills between Parson’s Pond and Sop’s Arm, was firsthand evidence of what is happening across area 69.
He took photos to document what he saw.
“To me, it’s disgraceful what’s happening to the caribou,” he told The Northern Pen.
Keough runs Leslie Lake Outfitters out of Parson’s Pond. Caribou hunting was one of the packages they offered as a business.
However, caribou hunting in management area 69, comprising most of the Great Northern Peninsula (excluding the St. Anthony area), has been closed for 2019-20.
No licenses will be issued for that period.
The decision was made by the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources in response to the decline in the herd’s population.
In 2007, there were 5,811 animals in area 69, including 9.1 per cent calves. That number had decreased to 1,315 animals in 2017 with just 3.8 per cent being calves.
The department informed The Northern Pen that, generally, 15 per cent of a caribou population must consist of calves if the herd is to stabilize or recover.
But Keough doesn’t believe cutting the hunting licenses will do any good for the caribou population, as long as the coyote prowls.
He says predation by coyotes is the main factor in the caribou’s decline.
In his opinion, a better solution to help the caribou recover would be to put a bounty on coyotes.
Currently, the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources has a carcass collection program for wolf-coyote hybrids (as well as gray wolves in Labrador) to “assist with further monitoring of the occurrence and distribution of coyotes, wolves or wolf-coyote hybrids within the province.”
The shooting season for coyotes ranges from Sept 14, 2019 to July 15, 2020.
Hunters and trappers are paid a $25 fee for submitting the entire carcass to the nearest department office.
But for Keough, $25 isn’t enough of an incentive.
He believes the provincial government should consult with the outfitters association to see what they’re willing to contribute to a bounty pot.
“I’m an outfitter and I’d have no problem putting $1,000 in a pot for a bounty on the coyotes,” he said. “But $25 is no good, you’d want to put about $250 or $350 on it. Make it worthwhile for people to hunt it and when the money is gone, it’s gone.”
He’d like to see the coyote hunted until its population is no longer a threat to the caribou.
His hope is the caribou population would rebound and the caribou hunt can be opened once again.
In a statement to The Northern Pen, the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources said that predation by bears and coyotes is considered the greatest contributor to poor calf survival.
However, the department did not believe a bounty on coyotes would likely increase calf survival.
“Due to the reproductive capacity of coyotes, placing a bounty on coyotes as a way to increase other wildlife populations has had limited to no success in other jurisdictions,” the statement read.
The department said that, historically, all herds on the island have experienced periods of poor calf recruitment, even when coyotes were not present.
Meanwhile, there is evidence that calf survival in other herds is rebounding, suggesting that coyotes may not be the only issue affecting herds.