<strong>MILLVILLE—</strong> Recently the Millville Predator Research Facility, home to roughly 100 coyotes involved in various research projects, was mentioned in the national news, as a New York Times article took a look at the Utah’s <a href=”http://wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/hunting/hunting-information/762″ target=”_blank”>“Predator Control” incentive program</a>.
Dr. Julie K. Young, a supervisory research biologist for the federal Department of Agriculture, has been the Director of the facility for nearly three years, and was quoted in the <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/23/us/coyotes-sly-predators-become-targets-in-utah.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0″ target=”_blank”>Times article</a>. She was sought out, because the Millville facility is the only federally funded facility of its kind in the country, and works exclusively with coyotes (<a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/news/local/article_a4837130-ac41-11e2-8787-0019bb30f31a.html” target=”_blank”>at least until May 1</a>).
“The way wildlife is managed in the U.S. is through public opinion really. You don’t have a community meeting to design the next space shuttle, but you have a community meeting to design how you’re going to decide how many mule deer there are that are going to be hunted each year. That’s fine, if we’re doing our job and providing that information,” Dr. Young said.
“Unfortunately, in this case, we’re doing a great study and they went ahead with the policy before – I mean our study was just six months into year one of a four-year funded project. It would have been really great if they would have just held off until we had more data. Luckily, it’s not actually affecting our study too much; it’s not in an area where people are going for these extra bounty dollars.”
Meanwhile, while the <a href=”http://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/predator_program_fact_sheet.pdf” target=”_blank”>Mule Deer Protection Act</a> will continue to reward hunters with $50 per coyote until 10,000 coyotes are harvested, Dr. Young and her staff will continue to work to better understand the predators at the Millville facility that was started in 1973 and has grown to cover 164 acres.
Operated by the National Life Research Center, which is the research branch of Wildlife Services, the facility falls under direction of the USDA. Dr. Young said the mission of the center is to reduce human and wildlife contact and conflict, and that the facility falls under the USDA because a lot of the research has to do with livestock depredation.
“We look at identifying ways for them to (avoid conflict) – tools and technology mostly – and usually looking for ways that are non-lethal methods to reduce that conflict,” Dr. Young said. “What we’d like to see is people and wildlife be able to live together, and livelihoods still being successful.”
While the roughly 100 adult coyotes on site are wild coyotes, they are not released into the wild and most are born and spend their entire lives in the facility. Occasionally, pups are brought in from the wild when abandoned dens are discovered by DWR officers and the facility needs to increase its genetic diversity.
“We breed only those that we need to breed just to increase our genetic diversity or replace old ones that are dying. They can’t all breed, or else we’d just have exponential growth. It’s very managed as far as that, otherwise, we treat them just like wild coyotes,” Dr. Young said. “We don’t interact with them other than feeding and to check on them every day. We try to keep them as wild as possible, so that we can make comparisons to wild populations.”
At the facility, the coyotes take part in an average of six research projects each year. The size of the study can range from just a few animals, to large parts of the population. The largest study currently involves 32 animals, and tests the coyotes’ risk behavior.
Preliminary tests were done to establish whether or not the animals could count using food balls. Two holes were dug, and three food balls were dropped in one hole, while just one food ball was dropped in another while the animals watched. The coyotes immediately went to the hole that was filled with the most food balls.
Once it was established that the coyotes could count, various amounts of risk were added to the test. For example, one hole was filled with six food balls, while another hole was only filled with one. However, the hole filled with six food balls had a human standing just a few feet behind it.
“They’re doing tests like that now. Now that they know that coyotes can count, they can actually test that risk behavior, which should help with urban situations,” Dr. Young said. “Are coyotes willing to take risks when there are humans around?”
“I feel like a lot of my job is making sure that we’re justifying having captive coyotes. Even zoos have a mission, it’s education, there has to be a purpose and we have to make sure we’re fulfilling that purpose. Our purpose is to conduct research that helps reduce conflict in the wild.”
For those interested in learning more about the facility, Dr. Young said there is an open house each fall and that all valley residents are invited to visit the facility and view some of the animals.