- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s state agriculture and wildlife departments have resumed a program that connects hunters and trappers with landowners who are plagued by coyotes for a third year.

The number of landowners signing up to the Coyote Catalog program increased from 51 to 74 from the first year to the second year, while the number of hunters and trappers jumped from about 500 to nearly 900. That spike is likely due to an earlier signup the second year alongside greater awareness of the program, and officials with the Agriculture and Game and Fish departments said they expect interest to stabilize.

“There might be a little softening in numbers … but as we lose a few we’ll get some new ones,” Game and Fish furbearer biologist Stephanie Tucker said.

Surveys indicate the population of coyotes, which are prolific breeders that eat everything from mice to deer, has been increasing in recent years, according to Tucker. The Agriculture Department doesn’t tabulate numerical estimates of the coyote population, but it estimates that ranchers last year lost more than $1 million worth of livestock to the predators.

“Hunting and trapping are valuable tools in managing these predators,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said.

Participants who responded to a survey at the end of the program’s first year indicated 107 coyotes were killed. Slightly more than half of participants responded. A survey was not conducted at the end of the second year. Officials have not yet decided whether to do a survey this year.

“We’re still feeling out the program to see its success, its effectiveness,” Tucker said.

The Coyote Catalog program was activated Monday and will remain active through the end of March. People with serious coyote problems are urged to first contact agencies such as the federal government’s Wildlife Services division, which has programs to get rid of problem animals.

Wildlife Services has responded to an average of about 850 coyote calls in the past four years, State Director Phil Mastrangelo said.

“The Coyote Catalog is a tool that we refer landowners to when we receive calls that don’t fit the priority ranking that we have established with our state partners,” he said.

Some conservation groups say killing coyotes is not the answer to dealing with the predators. The California-based nonprofit Project Coyote, for example, believes that such programs exacerbate the problem by killing off weak, young and less-intelligent animals - leaving a smarter, stronger and more adaptable population of predators.

Tucker said Game and Fish has received no complaints about the program. The Agriculture Department has received only a couple, according to marketing specialist Jamie Good.

“We are obviously sensitive to that. We understand that for some it may not be perceived as the best way to control the population,” Good said. “We’re just providing options for people - landowners and sportsmen.”

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Online:

Landowner sign-up: www.nd.gov/ndda/coyote-catalog

Hunter and trapper sign-up: https://gf.nd.gov/hunting/hunter-contact-form

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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