Idaho ranchers once again can use aircraft to hunt coyotes and other predators under a permit system the state Department of Agriculture reinstated this week.
“The reason for issuing them (permits) is that people need them,” said department director John Hatch. “It’s a very cost-effective and efficient control method.”
In 1993, he said, ranchers and wool growers suffered $936,000 in losses to coyotes, the primary predator of livestock.
Aircraft, Hatch said, can be used to pursue the animals and for shooting at them.
The department stopped issuing aerial hunting permits in December due to a lawsuit. The case since has been thrown out.
The federal government does some control work already. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stationed “animal damage control” officers throughout most Western states, Hatch said. They use traps, poison bait and ground and aerial shooting, he said.
“They’re really the front line.”
Throughout southern Idaho, many ranchers also use traps, poison bait and ground shooting for coyote control. Ranchers wishing to hunt predators from an aircraft must get a state permit.
The practice isn’t commonly used in North Idaho.
Six to 10 permits are issued annually statewide. They generally permit the killing of 25 to 50 coyotes.
Ketchum, Idaho, attorney Debra Kronenberg argued that the department’s definition of “predator” is too broad and would allow the shooting of deer and elk eating from haystacks.
State law now defines predators as coyotes, jackrabbits, skunks, weasels and starlings. They have virtually no protection under the law.
“Anybody can take them at any time in almost any way,” said Hatch. Coyotes, he said, commonly are killed for their pelts or for “sport hunting.”
On Jan. 12, a judge threw out Kronenberg’s case. She said she plans to appeal.
Hatch concedes the Agriculture Department’s definition is “a little too broad.” It is due to be rewritten in March. Until then, the department is writing permits only for coyote control.
Kronenberg argues the best predator controls are simple and relatively cheap: guard dogs and a nearby human herder.
“There’s going to be some loss (of livestock),” she acknowledged. “But that’s the cost of doing business on public lands.”
She also said killing predators is inevitable in some cases.
“I don’t think the sheep rancher should have to stand there helpless as a coyote decimates the flock.”
If killing must be done, she said, she’d rather see it done by federal trackers on the ground. Most ranchers, she said, don’t have the training to make clean kills, especially from a moving aircraft.
Kronenberg said she finds it ironic that ranchers, raising livestock for slaughter, are angered by predators.
“We are the major predator on the planet,” she said.