Coyotes are found in every county in Georgia and their presence has hunters and wildlife biologists alike wondering how these predators are affecting white-tailed deer populations.
“Since the 1960’s, Georgia’s deer population has risen from scarcity to areas of local overabundance through restocking efforts and science-based management,” says Charlie Killmaster, State Deer Project Coordinator. “The population has since declined to a healthy level; however, a better understanding of the role of coyotes in deer management is needed.”
Although several studies have investigated predation impacts on the white-tailed deer population, few have been done in the Southeast and coyote predation on fawns likely varies regionally and locally. To better understand the nature of these impacts, UGA and Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) recently began a 4-year cooperative research effort investigating the effects of coyotes on fawns.
"It is well understood and accepted that coyotes do eat deer," says John W. Bowers, Assistant Chief of Game Management. "However, whether coyote predation is a benefit or an obstacle to deer management strategies is not black and white. We are hopeful this cooperative research effort will provide additional information for use by deer managers and hunters in making responsible management decisions."
One of the challenges faced when researching large predators, such as the coyote, is that they are highly secretive and wide-ranging, making it difficult to determine how many there really are. “We know from previous research that coyotes are having some impact on Southeastern deer herds,” says Dr. Karl V. Miller, Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management at The University of Georgia. “To determine the extent of that impact, we first need to generate reliable estimates of coyote populations.”
This study, primarily funded by WRD, will attempt to address this issue through a novel capture-mark-recapture technique in which DNA found in deposited scats will be used to identify individual coyotes. Researchers will also evaluate the seasonal diet of coyotes and assess the extent to which they impact fawn recruitment by conducting an intensive coyote removal across two large study sites in central Georgia.
The study will be conducted on B. F. Grant and Cedar Creek Wildlife Management Areas in central Georgia. “Because these two areas lie in the Piedmont Region of Georgia, we hope to establish a landscape model that predicts coyote abundance and their effects on deer populations,” says Will Gulsby, a PhD student in Wildlife Ecology and Management at The University of Georgia who is working on the project. “Our hope is that this model can be used by deer managers to make informed management decisions.”
Graduate students began work on the two WMAs earlier this fall by conducting trail-camera surveys. These camera surveys will be done repeatedly throughout the three-year study to assess fawn-to-doe ratios before and after the coyote removal. Later this winter, they plan to begin monitoring coyote abundance by setting up scent station and scat deposition transects that will traverse nearly 24,000 acres.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” says James Kelly, another graduate student at The University of Georgia who is working on the project. “But it will be well worth it in the end when we can add to the body of knowledge WRD, deer managers, and hunters use to achieve their management goals.”
Georgia’s present laws and regulations allow coyotes to be taken year round with no bag limit and few restrictions. As such, hunters and landowners have maximum flexibility in managing coyotes on their properties.
For more information regarding coyotes, visit the WRD website at www.georgiawildlife.com, contact a WRD Game Management Office or call (770) 918-6416.