This is draft one of an op-ed piece i’m working on.
It was after three in the morning, December of last year. I answered my ringing cell phone and was greeted by the distressed voice of a friend: “I think I’ve killed him. Oh God!”
After he calmed down a bit and began to speak more coherently, I found out that he had just hit a deer in his car. He was on a small back road that winds through pseudo-rural patches of intermittent parkland and suburban sprawl. There are many such roads in the tri- state area between Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
The fields, small patches of woods and our neighborhood back yards are home to an overpopulation of white-tailed deer. Many locals see these vast herds as a display of nature’s beauty. However, I tell you now that such large numbers indicate an unhealthy ecosystem. For too long, these animals have been living and multiplying on the fringes of our meager wild spaces.
Those days are over. Eastern Coyotes are repopulating this tri-state area. They are filling in the empty gap of the predator in the local ecosystem. Over the past few years, coyotes have been increasing in numbers in our local. As evidence of this, sightings of these predators have been increasing in frequency.
Many people who spend a good deal of time outside in the tri-state region claim to have seen Coyotes in the fields and among the trees. I might not believe them unless I had good reason to do so. As it happens, I do. I have personally seen two Coyotes in recent years.
There have long been rumors and sightings by people such as myself, but official documentation has been somewhat of a slow process.
Finally, the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed the fact that the Eastern Coyote inhabits all three of the state’s counties. This endorsed documentation was issued as recently as June of 2010. Some time ago it was officially stated that Coyotes are present in all counties of Maryland. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, it has long been known that the Eastern Coyote is found in all 67 of that state’s counties.
Animal rights activists are suggesting human-facilitated introduction of a population of Coyotes to Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania. This small open space has a population of nearly 1,400 deer. The land cannot continue to support them without serious negative affects. If the deer are not eradicated, then other herbivores in the local ecosystem will be pushed out, and the whole system will come crashing down.
It is possible that the unnatural introduction of a larger population of Coyotes might also throw the balance off. However, these predators are already present in small numbers. If they were allowed to move into the area unchecked by humans, their populations might increase and in turn counteract the overpopulation of deer.
Currently though, the hunting of Coyotes for sport is allowed in PA, DE and MD. If this were to be decreased or disallowed, Coyotes would be present in greater numbers. Their presence would fill a badly needed function in the region.
Coyotes as we know them now are new to this area. However, Coyotes are not new. When the first European settlers arrived on the East Coast, there were animals that they described as wolves. They very well could have been Eastern Coyotes or a purer genetic strand of wolves. Either way, their presence drastically decreased, leaving a crippled ecological web.
Scientists have proven that the Eastern Coyote is a hybrid of the Western Coyote and wolves. The DNA record is evidence to this fact. There is great debate as to when this fusing occurred. Weather it was in the recent years or thousands of years ago, the Eastern Coyote is currently capable of filling out the local food chain.
This process is already under way. The Coyotes are coming back. If you don’t believe it for yourself, ask the parent of any student in the Red Clay School District in Delaware—two weeks ago the superintendent officially released a warning of Coyote sightings near school dumpsters.