PAYSON — Coyotes get a low-stress two weeks during the 2002 Winter Games, thanks to the terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center in New York.
Because of the no-fly restriction that goes into effect at midnight Feb. 7 and runs through midnight Feb. 24, Wildlife Services cannot conduct aerial control runs within 45 nautical miles around the Games.
That means coyote pairs, particularly those in Utah County — who mate and establish their territory during January, February and March — won't have to worry about shooters in helicopters who generally focus on killing them during the winter snows.
Ranchers believe the restrictions will mean more lambs will be killed this spring.
"If we go up in the early spring and take a mating pair from a target area, we can stop the killing of livestock (in that area)," said Seth Winterton,
compliance manager for the state division of the Department of Agriculture and Food. "This year, obviously during the Olympics, we can't fly, and this is our winter tool."
"We fly helicopters after fresh snowfall because we can follow the tracks," said Mike Bodenshuk, state Wildlife Services director. "February's our best month for snowstorms."
Winterton said coyotes are killed as needed and not in specifically targeted quotas. He did not want to release numbers because he said it changes every year from area to area. "If a coyote isn't eating sheep, it is not a problem," he said.
Yearlings are not a concern, Bodenshuk said, noting it is the adult coyotes that are targeted during the time they mate and before pups can be born. Coyotes bear litters of five to six young about two months after they mate.
Bodenshuk said if a coyote pair can be eliminated during January and February, it leaves a territory unclaimed for a significant time and the sheep in that area have a better chance for survival.
If the territorial pair are left free to roam, they kill lambs and ewes with abandon as they work at feeding their newborn pups.
"It certainly is (a critical time)," said Vern Wilson, a rancher in the West Mountain area. "Without that control on the lambing grounds, they're free."
Wilson said predator control "is an uphill shot anyway" because coyotes are so clever and adaptable.
"They're the smartest creatures," he said. "We have to control them year-round. You can't just leave out a couple of weeks."
Ranchers are not allowed to use poison to control the coyote population, and traps and snares are problematical and have limited success, he said.
Bodenshuk said he is painfully aware that sitting out the two-week period during the Olympics will impact ranchers and their herds.
"We try to protect sheep while minimizing the damage to the wildlife," he said. "Coyotes above 7,000 feet are feeding their pups during January, February and March. That's when they're taking lambs and ewes, so we target the adults. If we wait until July, we have yearlings, pups and pairs."
"If we can do a good job now, we don't have the problems later. This is critical to us, the sheep and the wildlife."
During the two-week period, control personnel will not be idle. They'll be concentrating on other areas of the state with predator problems, he said. "Actually, the closure only affects a handful of areas," he said. "The problem is, for the rancher it affects, it's a big problem."
Bodenshuk said Monday's storm was a godsend because the helicopters will be up before the no-fly zone goes into effect, increasing opportunities to kill a number of coyotes before the Games.