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Thread: Where are our sheep going? The verdict is in!

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    Default Where are our sheep going? The verdict is in!

    I will apologize in advanced because this is likely to be long winded.

    First THANK YOU to Mr STEPHEN M. ARTHUR, one of our fish and game biologists for his fantastic work on this project!!

    ***please not that all quotes in this post should be attributed to Mr STEPHEN M. ARTHUR, or Laura R. Prugh though I may take liberty with adding underlines or bolding some text for emphasis.

    I started following along with the limited information published annually on the sheep studies taking place in the Central Alaska Range [CAR] in 2007. I have made a number of assumptions in the past based on those reports and referenced them here a number of times. I have been waiting on the final study report and after 4 years my wait is finally over! I got the best Christmas Present today when I checked the ADF&G website and was looking through old reports. I noted that the 2009 report had a line I hadn’t noticed before.


    A manuscript was prepared for submission to The Journal of Wildlife Management.
    Additional data analysis and manuscript preparation/revision will continue in fiscal year
    2010.
    As you can imagine this sent me running to the web looking for how to get a copy of that article! Well $25 and I had my very own copy of Predator-Mediated Indirect Effects of Snowshoe Hares on Dall’s Sheep in Alaska” before me!! I have spent the past several hours contemplating it. Unfortunately I can’t post the whole thing here so I will hit a few high points and encourage you all to get a copy!

    To start this document CLEARLY points to the influx of coyotes as being THE key element to the decrease in sheep populations in the Central Alaska Range and I feel strongly that it is accurate for all ranges where they coyotes currently exist. The only range that does not have drastically reduced sheep numbers is the Brooks, which is the one major range that is still coyote free. **note: there were no coyotes in Alaska prior to the early 1900's!


    I have brought up in the past that coyotes were the biggest problem with our sheep and was met with conflict from a number of people who stated that I was underestimating the effects of Golden Eagles.They asserted that since we would not be able to reduce the Golden Eagle population that Coyote predator control would be a waste of time.The following clearly disputes that argument because the lambs that survive the first month are unlikely to be killed by an Eagle. Yet more than ½ of the lambs killed by coyotes are over 1 month old and mostly out of the “danger zone” when it comes to eagle predation.

    Of the 82 lamb mortalities, 59 (72%) occurred during May–August, when radiotracking flights were most frequent.Eagles mainly preyed on young lambs, whereas coyotes killed lambs throughout the year. Most predation by eagles occurred during the first month after lambing (x¯ over all yr = 73% of eagle kills, SE = 13%, n = 6 yr), and no lambs >6 months old were killed by eagles. In contrast, only 44% (SE = 10%, n = 6 yr) of coyote predation occurred during the first month after lambing.
    This makes it clear that Coyotes prey on sheep that would have been reasonably likely to survive golden eagle predation over 50% of the time!


    Soak this next excerpt in as well. I am so stoked with the fantastic work done by our Bio’s on this project! It has been a long time in coming!! Also note that FNAWS has helped in this study as well which is just one more reason why we all need to get involved and help restore that org to its potential!!


    Despite these limitations, the magnitude of the apparent decline and consistency of counts within each period suggest that the reduction in population size cannot be attributed entirely to differences in sightability or movements of sheep. Rather, these data suggest that predation by coyotes is causing the sheep population to fluctuate around a lower mean density than was typical before coyotes became abundant. Predation of adult sheep by larger predators, especially wolves, might be important in limiting some sheep populations (Murie 1944, Bergerud and Elliott 1998). However, in our area, wolves ate primarily moose and caribou (Valkenburg et al. 2002, McNay and Ver Hoef 2003), and survival of adult female sheep was high (cf., Hoefs and Bayer 1983). Thus, extremely low lamb survival during years of high hare abundance was the main factor limiting sheep population size (cf., Linnell et al. 1995).
    This is an interesting correlation and does a good job of showing the important data that we as hunters provide to our biologists.
    Since at least 1983, changes in harvests of sheep in the CAR closely matched changes in hare abundance, with peaks in harvests preceding peaks in hare abundance by approximately 1 year (Fig. 3). This synchrony may have occurred because most sheep are harvested at approximately 8 years of age (Heimer and Smith 1975; Young 2005, 2008). Thus, harvests reflect recruitment of cohorts born 8 years previously, which approximates the period of the hare cycle
    .

    This is something that I have stated in the past (though not as effectively) and it is great to see it validated here with the science to back it up! (patting myself on back)
    Effective management of large predators to increase ungulate populations requires understanding effects of alternate prey and stage-specific differences in predation regimes on ungulate population dynamics. In the CAR, control of coyotes to reduce predation on Dall's sheep would likely be most cost-effective during peak years of hare abundance, when losses to predation were greatest (cf., Hamlin et al. 1984). Furthermore, wolf control without accompanying efforts to reduce coyote predation is unlikely to increase abundance of this sheep population and may have the opposite effect over the long term.
    Personally I am of the opinion that coyotes be listed as an invasive species and actively eradicated w/ no close season, no bag limits and no regulation on method and means beyond restricting those that could harm other native species like poisons or nondiscriminatory traps. Things that need to be immediately done in my opinion are the following:
    1. No bag limit, no closed season
    2. Authorize denning or at the very least don’t make it “illegal”.
    3. Authorize the use of dogs for hunting and locating dens
    4. A plan for State funded predator control during peak hare cycles in prime lambing grounds of all the major south central, Kenai, and southern interior ranges.
    5. No salvage requirements beyond those needed by fish and game for their purposes


    The BOG will be in session soon! There are some proposals in now that would be a huge step in the right direction! We need to get out there this time and push this stuff through!

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    Member GrizzlyH's Avatar
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    Holy crap LuJ, no wonder you haven't deleted any posts the last 2 hours.......lol......you have been busy typing all that info.
    Just funnin ya of course
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    Member Smokey's Avatar
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    Well done LuJon. Good luck controlling coyotes, they have been decimating the deer fawn's for years in the lower 48 and there is almost no way other than trapping to kill off numbers on a large enough scale to make an impact. They are very smart and adaptable..
    Randy
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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    "Despite these limitations, the magnitude of the apparent decline and consistency of counts within each period suggest that the reduction in population size cannot be attributed entirely to differences in sightability or movements of sheep. Rather, these data suggest that predation by coyotes is causing the sheep population to fluctuate around a lower mean density than was typical before coyotes became abundant. Predation of adult sheep by larger predators, especially wolves, might be important in limiting some sheep populations (Murie 1944, Bergerud and Elliott 1998). However, in our area, wolves ate primarily moose and caribou (Valkenburg et al. 2002, McNay and Ver Hoef 2003), and survival of adult female sheep was high (cf., Hoefs and Bayer 1983). Thus, extremely low lamb survival during years of high hare abundance was the main factor limiting sheep population size (cf., Linnell et al. 1995).

    Effective management of large predators to increase ungulate populations requires understanding effects of alternate prey and stage-specific differences in predation regimes on ungulate population dynamics.
    In the CAR, control of coyotes to reduce predation on Dall's sheep would likely be most cost-effective during peak years of hare abundance, when losses to predation were greatest (cf., Hamlin et al. 1984). Furthermore, wolf control without accompanying efforts to reduce coyote predation is unlikely to increase abundance of this sheep population and may have the opposite effect over the long term."

    Excellent post. I want to point out something that will tend to get overlooked by many on this forum who think wolves are evil and believe that "controlling" them can only result in good. The two quoted statements above speak against that notion. In areas with a stable thriving wolf population, coyote numbers are held in check, if they are allowed to exist at all. Kill wolves, upset pack dynamics, and coyotes will fill the niche. Something to think about.

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    I have a hard time agreeing with that off the cuff. It certainly is a potential factor but it is hard to state that it is that much of a key issue when you consider that there were no coyotes in AK 100 years ago. That makes it hard to argue that there is some long standing "natural balance" between the two species.

    Here is a key point:
    However, in our area, wolves ate primarily moose and caribou
    Another excerpt from the report:
    Harvests of wolves by fur trappers and hunters in east-central Alaska during recent years and the ability of coyotes to scavenge on wolf-killed moose when hares are scarce may also help coyotes persist in the presence of wolves (McNay 2002, Prugh 2005).
    The reason I toss this one up her is truly to show that we don't know what the relationship between wolves and coyotes is in this environment. There are also plenty of areas with very little harvest of wolves that still show repressed sheep numbers and high evidence of coyote abundance.

    I do agree it is very short sighted to launch a predator control program without taking into consideration effects on other game populations. The biggest thing that kills me is we have looked at coyotes as a resource and welcomed them with open arms. They displace native species and we seem to accept it. Not that we could ever eliminate them all together but why on earth would we have any rules limiting harvest?

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    Interesting reading for sure. Never even seen a coyote in sheep country before.
    What say you sheep hunters? How many coyotes have you seen while sheep hunting?
    Tennessee

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey View Post
    Well done LuJon. Good luck controlling coyotes, they have been decimating the deer fawn's for years in the lower 48 and there is almost no way other than trapping to kill off numbers on a large enough scale to make an impact. They are very smart and adaptable..
    Randy
    I agree, it is impossible to beat them back into Canada. Luckily most of our animals are too big for them or get that way shortly after birth. Sheep are the weak link on that front! Fortunately sheep tend to be consistent about where they have their lambs. Add to that the smaller ranges of coyotes it may be possible to focus efforts on those areas that will have the greatest return. Taking out dens in sheep lambing areas in the spring during peak hare cycles may bear fruit.

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    Member Vince's Avatar
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    i know the north side of the AK range is sure picking up on population of yotes... Denali is filling up fast also.. the flight surveys are seeing more and more every year.
    "If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for; even when it isn't there."

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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    I have a hard time agreeing with that off the cuff. It certainly is a potential factor but it is hard to state that it is that much of a key issue when you consider that there were no coyotes in AK 100 years ago. That makes it hard to argue that there is some long standing "natural balance" between the two species.
    I'm not implying that there is any longstanding balance between wolves and coyotes in Alaska, quite the opposite. However, we can look Outside to understand that relationship. It is well researched and documented. And as wolves were eliminated in areas of the L-48 where the two species once coexisted, the coyotes took over and flourished. Now coyotes have become established here in Alaska, and as we continue our efforts to reduce wolf populations we disrupt the "natural balance" of the existing ecosystem here and only make it that much easier for the coyotes to flourish.

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vince View Post
    i know the north side of the AK range is sure picking up on population of yotes... Denali is filling up fast also.. the flight surveys are seeing more and more every year.
    When did that start predator control in Denali? That sort of reduces the weight behind the idea that the problem may be related to wolf control.

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    Thanks for posting this information. Where do we go from here?

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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    I agree, it is impossible to beat them back into Canada. Luckily most of our animals are too big for them or get that way shortly after birth. Sheep are the weak link on that front! Fortunately sheep tend to be consistent about where they have their lambs. Add to that the smaller ranges of coyotes it may be possible to focus efforts on those areas that will have the greatest return. Taking out dens in sheep lambing areas in the spring during peak hare cycles may bear fruit.
    While it may be true that individual coyotes have smaller ranges than wolves or other predators, as a species they are far more adaptable to most any environment, from downtown LosAnchorage to the sheep country of Denali, to the Brooks Range. The more we do to reduce and disrupt the resident wolf populations the faster the coyote population will grow and spread throughout the state. No one needs believe it, we can all just continue doing what we've been doing, and sit back and observe the outcome. For sure tho, coyotes are a hell of a lot harder to eradicate than wolves...

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    Member Kotton's Avatar
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    Them dang yotes messed up a stalk on a band of rams this year missing a chance at a great ram.They were traveling in a group of two and were diffently interested in sheep.They were on full retreat,up into the no mans land,with them following and they stayed up there for five days at the least before they came down....If I had it back I would have taken both those manjy mutts....Next time.I also found a lambs leg that was left from something...Makes me wonder if it was a yote, it was a larger lamb leg, a bit big for a eagle I would imagine.That was the only time I've seen that first hand but thinking about it a pack of them could take a full grown ewe down you would think,the little 1yr lambs wouldn't stand a chance.

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    I agree with some of what you are saying. I can only imagine what would happen if coyotes managed to adapt to some of the migratory bird critical habitat on the north slope! That said I don't think that the answer is no more predator control. I also don't think that the reduction of wolves is the problem in the Chugach range, Kenai pen, or eastern Talkeetnas. I don't by that wolves are hell bent on some seek and destroy mission to rid their entire territory of coyotes. I am sure that when they cross paths they probably kill them with some regularity. I do think that we should take into account the hare cycle when performing any predator control and either expand that control to include coyotes in critical habitat areas around peak cycles or modify the wolf control in such a manner that they are allowed to be more abundant during high hare/coyote cycles.

    Regardless of all that in real time today, it seems asinine to have any limits on coyote harvest. It makes almost as little sense as having a 2 per day limit on mice would if they took up residence in your home!

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    Member GrizzlyH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kotton View Post
    Them dang yotes messed up a stalk on a band of rams this year missing a chance at a great ram.They were traveling in a group of two and were diffently interested in sheep.They were on full retreat,up into the no mans land,with them following and they stayed up there for five days at the least before they came down....If I had it back I would have taken both those manjy mutts....Next time.I also found a lambs leg that was left from something...Makes me wonder if it was a yote, it was a larger lamb leg, a bit big for a eagle I would imagine.That was the only time I've seen that first hand but thinking about it a pack of them could take a full grown ewe down you would think,the little 1yr lambs wouldn't stand a chance.
    I carry 50 rounds of ammo with me at all times when hunting. If a bunch of wolves or yotes try to screw my hunt up, guess ware 48 rounds are going. I only need 2 more for my meat. One for the kill and one for the grizz that tries to take my kill.......JMO
    I can do the impossible right away. Be patient, miracles take me a bit longer.

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kotton View Post
    Them dang yotes messed up a stalk on a band of rams this year missing a chance at a great ram.They were traveling in a group of two and were diffently interested in sheep.They were on full retreat,up into the no mans land,with them following and they stayed up there for five days at the least before they came down....If I had it back I would have taken both those manjy mutts....Next time.I also found a lambs leg that was left from something...Makes me wonder if it was a yote, it was a larger lamb leg, a bit big for a eagle I would imagine.That was the only time I've seen that first hand but thinking about it a pack of them could take a full grown ewe down you would think,the little 1yr lambs wouldn't stand a chance.
    Kotton, if we can get the BOG to clear the red tape I would encourage you and all other sheep hunters to invest in a mouth call or drop the 199 for a foxpro scorpion then head up to the place they hunt sheep to plant the seed for a future of prosperous sheep hunting. The lamb you save to day may be the 40" ram or your dreams 10 years from now! Step one is to voice your support of the props to liberalize coyote harvest at the BOG this spring! Either go to the meeting and testify or write and submit your written testimony. The important thing is to get the voice of the resident sheep hunter heard amongst the chatter from the Moose and Bou groups!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Snowwolfe View Post
    Interesting reading for sure. Never even seen a coyote in sheep country before.
    What say you sheep hunters? How many coyotes have you seen while sheep hunting?
    Once. I saw a coyote once while sheep hunting. He was way up in the nose bleed section too. I was walking a ridgeline in the western AK range. Came around a bend, and here he comes trotting right down through this little saddle. Me and the hunter I was guiding just watched him until he was out of sight. I would say he was definitely on the prowl for lamb. Either that or a pika. Not much else on the menu at 4000-5000 ft.

    This is really interesting Lujon. Where did you find it? I would like to learn more about it. Especially the part about a correlation between peak hare cycles and low lamb density. I wasn't quite understanding what role the hare had in the equation. Could you explain more please?

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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    Regardless of all that in real time today, it seems asinine to have any limits on coyote harvest. It makes almost as little sense as having a 2 per day limit on mice would if they took up residence in your home!
    No argument there.

    Bottom line tho is that humans almost certainly made it possible for coyotes to become established here, and human activity has and will continue to exponentially accelerate their spread.

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    Member GrizzlyH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iofthetaiga View Post
    No argument there.

    Bottom line tho is that humans almost certainly made it possible for coyotes to become established here, and human activity has and will continue to exponentially accelerate their spread.
    That's why humans need to control there population growth. If we as humans want to compete with wolves and yotes for the same food group, we need to control both, cuz we as humans are controlling bou, sheep. moose and all of em with our hunting. Gotta control all species if we want to keep hunting for our meat people. NOT JMO. ask any Northern Minnesotan thats a native and not the hippies that moved there in the 60's hiding from the draft and now they turned into TREE HUGGERS and aren't even natives of the area. In my book, 99% of tree huggers are on welfare and have nothing but time to lobby against those of us that work 8 to 10 or more hours a day to support our families and we have to support these puke heads with our tax dollars.
    Think about it! I better shut up now cuz I may have just made this thread political in some eyes here.
    I can do the impossible right away. Be patient, miracles take me a bit longer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post

    Regardless of all that in real time today, it seems asinine to have any limits on coyote harvest. It makes almost as little sense as having a 2 per day limit on mice would if they took up residence in your home!
    LuJon,

    I applaud your work in putting out a BOG prop on this. However, coyote limits in the CAR are already either 10 per day or no limit for all but 2.5 months out of the year. I would think it would be pretty tough to kill more than 10 per day anyways, so while getting them dropped to an invasive species with no limit or closed season would be cool, the realistic outcome of killing that many more yotes over the current regs I feel would likely be negligible. Having spent a large deal of time year round in the CAR and seeing only limited numbers maybe 3-4 in the last 10 years I feel that the additional bag limit or season would not really amount to anymore real world help to the sheep. I would like to think and hope I am wrong in this, but the reality is that just because you go from 10 per day to unlimited per day doesn't mean hundreds of Wiley's kin will be taken out because of it.

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