Bears to blame for Nfld. caribou decline: minister

Newfoundland and Labrador's environment minister is rejecting calls to increase the bounty on coyotes, saying bears — not coyotes — are the primary reason why the province's caribou population is in decline.

"We did look at the issue of increasing a [coyote] bounty," said Charlene Johnson. "We did look at other jurisdictions, and the literature shows that bounties aren't an effective means of coyote management."

Johnson was responding to a petition circulating in western Newfoundland. It says coyotes are a threat to the province's caribou population and calls on the provincial government to increase the bounty it pays hunters for coyote carcasses.

Johnson said coyotes react to threats in their environments by having larger litters.

"If you disrupt the normal breeding activity of the coyote, they can then, in turn, breed more pups," she said. "So, if they feel that their general biology is changing and they need to increase their population, they can have litters as large as 14 pups at a time

Johnson said the government is three years into a five-year study of the caribou population and preliminary research shows black bears are a bigger threat to caribou than coyotes.

"The real issue here is calf survival," she said. "Our science shows us that black bears are the primary cause of caribou calf mortality on the calving ground. No doubt coyotes do kill caribou, but they rely primarily on rabbit and moose and [the carcasses of] dead moose."

In Labrador, coyotes are not such a large threat to caribou because wolves still exist in that region and keep the coyote population at bay.