Coyotes once called the western U.S. home, but now, the wild canines have expanded their territory, to include all three counties in Delaware.  But there's disagreement on how to manage the growing population.

It may come as a surprise to some, but Delaware's coyote population is estimated at 50 to 100, according to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.  "Coyotes have recently, within the last 10 years, colonized the state of Delaware," said David Saveikis, director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife.  "They've expanded their range naturally from the midwest and from the north."

It's not just rural Sussex County where the coyotes have been seen.  Last year, avid Delaware hunter James Blackstock posted a YouTube video of a coyote pup walking through White Clay Creek State Park, not far from the University of Delaware in downtown Newark.

But that cute pup will soon develop a voracious appetite.  Something a handful of farmers in Delaware have already learned the hard way.

Turkeys killed

Last fall, 50 to 100 turkeys were killed in what may have been a coyote attack at TA Farms west of Dover.  "We never really figured out what it was," said farmer Daniel Palmer.  "We're thinking with all the rumors going around about the sightings of coyotes, that it may have been that."

Palmer says whatever it was knocked down the fence that holds 8,000 free range turkeys.  "They actually went on like a rampage or something.  They tore a bunch of them up and were trying to carry some of them away to some place, another location, because there was probably three to four hundred feet of birds strung out to where they finally went to."

Even though he's been keeping a watchful eye, he hasn't had any return attacks since last fall. 

Ripe for population explosion

State Senator David Lawson, R- Marydel, has also had personal experience with coyotes.  He lost four guinea hens in a coyote attack on his property.  "This very fence right behind me, they were able to scale it and get inside," said Lawson.  "They eat them in place.  I found two wings, a leg, and a head.  Everything else was eaten right there."

Lawson has been working over the past two years to give landowners more leeway in taking out coyotes on their property.  "This has grown into an absolute monster from where it should have been. They are a predator, they're non-native to this area, and we are ripe to have an explosion here."

He's concerned that new regulations from the Department of Natural Resources to manage the coyote populations will limit landowners' ability to protect their animals and property.  The draft regulations call for a four month hunting/trapping season for coyotes, but Lawson says that's not enough.

"Unfortunately coyotes breed year-round.  At 10 months, they can breed, ten months old.  So if you don't control them, if you don't have ready access to control them on site, if you will, then we're limited to just four months out of the year to try and control a breeding population all year round."

Year-round protection

But in addition to the hunting season, DNREC plans to issue a blanket Secretary's Order to allow farmers and others to protect their property.

"That will be a standing Secretary's Order to all citizens, to all landowners of the state, that will allow them to harvest coyotes using firearms 365 days a year, if the coyotes present an imminent threat to their livestock, domestic animals or human safety," said Saveikis.

Saveikis says allowing coyote hunting year-round could lead to poaching.  "If you have a spring and summer season for coyote, if someone is out hunting during that time frame, they could claim that they are hunting coyote, but they could actually be poaching white-tailed deer, for example."

Changing ecosystem

DNREC is confident that the four month hunting and trapping season will adequately manage the coyote population.  But even so, the influx of coyotes will have an impact on the state's animal ecosystem. 

"Coyotes are major predators of mid-level predators, such as raccoons, fox and skunks; we expect those populations to go down," said Saveikis.  "They will feed on groundhogs and squirrels, rabbits. Likely the rabbit population will go down, but so will the groundhog population."  

While some might celebrate having fewer groundhogs, Saveikis warns outdoor pets could be on a coyote's menu as well.  "They may prey upon free-ranging farm animals, as well as domestic pets such as cats and small dogs."  

Regulations released in December

The official regulations are expected to be issued at the start of December, which could allow coyote hunting season to start later that month.  

Until then, individual farmers or other landowners who are having problems with coyotes can apply for an individual Secretary's Order that would allow them to kill coyotes threatening animals on their property.