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Today's word on journalism

May 12, 2009

The Last WORD

The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

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Feedback and suggestions --printable and otherwise --always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Coyotes vs. ranchers: Millville research center works toward a solution

By Jessica Allen

May 4, 2009 | CACHE COUNTY, Utah -- On a ranch out in Tremonton, a herd of 1,800 sheep graze and rest quietly as a stealthy, wiry predator calmly stalks a nearby lamb. Running swiftly and taking it down, the predator bites the throat of the young lamb, making it the killing blow.

Braden Jensen, a student studying agriculture at Utah State University, said that his family has tried numerous ways to protect their herd of sheep, but nothing has been completely successful at keeping the coyotes away, a problem that a lot of farmers and ranchers face.

Jensen's family has been raising sheep and dealing with coyotes for four generations and see the predators as an expected annoyance when it comes to the business, he said. They own sheep in Tremonton and Penrose with summer ranges in Avon and Liberty, Utah.

"You know it's going to be a problem, so it's more of an annoyance," Jensen said about raising and losing sheep to predatory animals.

Out in Millville at the USU Predator Research Facility, Dr. John A. Shivik, supervisory research wildlife biologist, said that at the facility they study coyote behaviors and habits to try and help ranchers and farmers with coyote problems. The goal of the facility, he said, is to find a way to keep coyotes living where they are, but to stop them from preying on the livestock.

At the facility over 100 coyotes, born and raised there, are studied by researchers and students from USU.

Coyotes that mostly prey on livestock usually go after sheep and goats, Shivik said, but sometimes they may prey on calves too.

Garrett Snow, a student at USU, said his grandfather used to own a couple hundred head of cattle out in Roosevelt, Utah for 20 years and that coyotes were something that they had to deal with.

"Every now and then he would lose a calf," Snow said. The coyotes would usually work as a pack to separate it from the protective mother and kill it.

However, Snow said, the coyotes most often get the calves when they were separated from their mothers and the rest of the herd to be weaned and that they were small enough still that a single coyote could kill one.

One year it was particularly bad when it was dry in the mountains and there was less prey, causing the coyotes to go after bigger game than they normally would go for, resulting in more cattle loss than usual, Snow said. He said his grandfather probably lost two or three calves a year to coyotes, and that the way that they usually dealt with them was to go out and hunt them.

Coyote packs usually consist of two adults and whatever offspring they have that survive to maturity, Shivik said, but packs can be as large as 12 adults in some areas.

Coyotes are very smart and adaptable, Shivik said, and can live in the country or in urban areas where they can be a threat to humans.

Shivik said that coyote populations are larger now than they were before humans moved into the areas where they lived. People brought in trees that didn't use to be here and put in ditches with water and canals, and inadvertently created environments for coyotes to thrive, especially when they brought in livestock.

In Utah, studies done in 1999 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, also known as NASS, showed that in the United States coyotes were the leading predator and were responsible for the loss of 165,800 sheep and lambs in that year, resulting in the total national loss of $9,637 for ranchers.

NASS reported that in 1999, coyotes were responsible for the loss of 12,000 lambs and 3,800 sheep in Utah alone.

Jensen said that they have about 4,000 to 5,000 lambs born each year, as about 70 percent of the ewes had twins, and said that they probably lost a couple hundred lambs a year to coyotes.

Another problem, Shivik said, is that coyotes and sheep have their offspring at the same time of year, in April.

"One of the motivations for coyotes is if they have pups they need more food and then they'll eat those lambs," Shivik said about why there is an increase for coyotes with pups to prey more on sheep and lambs than those that do not.

Not all coyotes prey on lambs, and many scientists and studies are finding is that the coyotes that prey on sheep is a learned behavior, states the information booklet Lines of Defense: Coping with Predators in the Rocky Mountain Region, written by Eric M. Geese, Sean P. Keenan, and Ann M. Kitchen.

Shivik said some coyotes are perfectly happy hunting rabbits, rats, other small rodents, and taking bites out of watermelon without ever killing livestock.

Lines of Defense also states that although most coyotes have the potential to prey on the livestock, many don't -- further supporting that it is a learned behavior.

"What one of our scientists has done was he went in with helicopters and surgically sterilized packs," Shevik said. "So those coyotes maintained their territory but they didn't have pups, and he grazed sheep through places with sterilized coyotes and not sterilized coyotes and there was about a six-fold decrease in the lamb kills."

Lines of Defense also states that ranchers and farmers that are not experiencing any losses to the coyotes around them to let them be, because if they remove the coyotes that aren't doing any harm to their livestock or farms new coyotes may move into the territory that will cause damage.

Ideal, Shivik said, would be to have coyote packs that breed but do not prey on sheep or cattle that maintain their territory. A coyote's territory can vary anywhere from a couple of square miles to 10, he said.

Shivik said studies that the facility has done have shown that coyote pairs mate for life, and that when a female losses her mate she will leave the territory to look for a new one, while if a male coyote loses his he will try and bring one on to the territory.

But right now a perfect solution to the coyote problem hasn't been found and ranchers and farmers try different ways to deter the animals.

"We have found that each coyote is very different," Shivik said, "and that some are afraid of some things and others aren't."

Shivik said that a lot of ranchers and farmers will use bright flashing lights to try and scare coyotes away as well as music, lamb sheds for when they are first born, guard dogs or llamas.

Coyotes can also be dealt with either shooting them on sight like a lot of farmers and ranchers do, or with sacrificial type collars. The sacrificial collars may be worn by a sheep if a rancher is having trouble with a particular coyote; when the coyote attacks the ‘sacrificial sheep' that is wearing the collar and bites into the neck it will poison the predator.

It would take three years, Shivik said, killing 70 percent of the coyotes to reduce their numbers to make a difference due to their reproductive capacity.

Some of the tactics that Jensen and others have used have been tying flags or pieces of clothing to posts or stings of wire around where the livestock graze. But that hasn't worked and sometimes, Jensen said, a trapper is needed to go out and take care of the coyotes.

The best defense against coyotes Jensen said his family has found has been the guard llamas that live among the sheep, and Great Pyrenees dogs, which are large white dogs that are raised as pups with the sheep to protect them.

Another great defense, Jensen said, is the three full time sheep herders that travel with the animals.

Currently there is no perfect solution that will benefit ranchers, farmers, and the coyotes but to keep trying to deal with them to the best of their abilities and trying different tactics, Shivik said.

"It's no big surprise," Jensen said, "coyotes are just something you just have to deal with."


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