Two public hearings on an N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission proposal to allow night hunting of coyotes and hunters year-round while using artificial lights, starting Aug. 1, are scheduled in the region.
The proposal also includes allowing the hunting of feral swine and coyotes on Sundays on private lands with archery equipment. They currently can be hunted year-round, but not at night.
One hearing is at 7 p.m. March 20 at the Iredell County Agricultural Extension Center at 444 Bristol Drive in Statesville and the other is at 7 p.m. March 21 at District Court #1, Buncombe County Courthouse, 60 Court Plaza in Asheville.
The public can also comment online at email@example.com.
Coyotes are known to kill domestic animals and eat crops. Feral hogs destroy vegetation and can spread disease to domestic livestock.
While not a major threat to cattle operations in Wilkes, they are becoming a bigger problem, said John Cothren, president of the Wilkes Cattlemen’s Association. “I am hearing more people say they are missing calves,” Cothren added.
He said Chris Kreh, the commission’s district wildlife biologist for the area that includes Wilkes, said at a recent Wilkes Cattlemen’s Association meeting that coyotes can sometimes unexpectedly turn more aggressive and become a greater threat to livestock.
Kreh said it’s hard to get a handle on the size of the coyote population. He believes the population has peaked in this part of the state, but that it can vary based on habitat and other factors. Coyotes prefer more open country, such as large fields.
Kreh also said the degree of adverse impact of coyotes and wild hogs to native wildlife species, including deer and wild turkeys, is also hard to gauge and can vary in different areas.
“Hunting in daylight can be effective, but it teaches coyotes and swine, which are very intelligent animals, to just come out at night to avoid being hunted. Plus, at night, it’s easier to spot them without them seeing you,” said Perry Sumner, a biologist and section manager with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
State wildlife officials say coyotes first made their appearance in eastern North Carolina in the 1980s because of illegal translocations and releases from outside of the state for the purpose of sport hunting with hounds.
By the early 1990s, they had become established in western counties due to natural range expansion from Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. By 2000, they had expanded to all 100 counties of North Carolina.
As opportunistic feeders, coyotes will eat birds, snakes, rodents, other small animals and insects like grasshoppers. Coyotes are generally brownish gray and weigh up to about 45 pounds.
They also have a tendency to get into urban and suburban neighborhoods, where they scavenge in garbage cans, prey on pets and get into pet food left outdoors.
“The night hunting might not have a direct effect on the coyotes getting into urban and suburban neighborhoods,” Sumner said. “What it will do, however, is teach them to avoid being around people, which will, in turn, teach them to avoid spending time in neighborhoods.”
The feral hog, or swine, was first introduced into North Carolina as domestic animals from Europe with the first European settlers by 1600. These swine were generally allowed to range free until the early 1960s when most were kept in confinement.
Eurasian wild boar were imported and released for hunting in western North Carolina in 1912. In the past 30 years, swine that resemble Eurasian wild boar as well as domestic pigs that have become feral have been released for hunting in various places in North Carolina and generally across the southeastern United States.
State wildlife officials say feral swine are highly intelligent and adaptable.
“Hogs reproduce quickly, and can do tremendous damage to crops, native plant and animal populations, and threaten commercial swine operations with transmittable diseases. They can locally decimate the fall acorn crop, leaving virtually none for other wildlife such as bear, turkey and white-tailed deer,” said a commission spokesman.
There is general agreement that there is no hope of eradicating coyotes, but night hunting with lights would keep their population in check and potentially decimate feral hogs.
Coyotes and feral hogs have rapidly expanded their footholds in the state, with coyotes documented in all 100 counties in 2005. Wildlife officials can’t estimate the coyote population, in part because their range is expansive.