Predator removal is a hot topic among today’s hunters. For some, the real or perceived reduction in numbers of their favorite game species can without exception be attributed to predators. Often a variety of factors, none of which have much to do with predation, have contributed to conditions that are not conducive to sustaining a particular wildlife species in abundance. A textbook example would be nesting habitat for ground-nesting birds such as turkeys. Often, turkey enthusiasts quickly cite predators as the primary reason turkey populations don’t meet expectations on their property when the truth is that one or more key habitat features is not adequate to support desired turkey numbers.
Today, many properties have short rotation pine plantations from which prescribed fire has been excluded as their primary cover type. These forest stands characteristically have closed canopies resulting in very little vegetation at ground level to provide wildlife food and/or cover. When food supplies are not well distributed across a property, then game animals must travel farther to feed. While doing so, they are more likely to encounter and fall prey to predators. Moreover, food resources that are restricted to small and/or localized feeding areas allow predators to pattern game movements just as food plots allow hunters to do so. Lack of cover leaves game animals exposed and vulnerable to predation as they move from bedding or nesting areas to get food or water.
When used together, timber stand thinning and the application of prescribed fire greatly enhance the habitat structure present on many properties. The use of prescribed fire in pine stands stimulates the growth of native grasses, forbs and legumes. The enhanced understory vegetation produced goes a long way toward providing the well-distributed, high-quality food in conjunction with adequate cover that are so beneficial to game species.
When and if predation is a significant problem limiting wildlife populations, predator removal can be very effective if it is carried out in an intensive manner at the proper time of year. This has recently proven to be the case with white-tailed deer. Several studies have been performed that monitored fawn recruitment (the number of fawns that survive into the next year’s population) in white-tailed deer. These studies varied somewhat in their methods, but all were designed to determine recruitment of fawns into the fall population, and, if possible, to determine the factors which influence it. Results from these studies indicated that predation was the main limiting factor on fawn recruitment, and that coyotes were the predator responsible for most of the “damage.” Coyotes killed as many as 85 percent of the fawns birthed in control areas where no predator removal measures were taken. In areas where predators were removed just prior to the fawning period, fawn recruitment increased, sometimes dramatically. It is important to note these are site-specific cases and not necessarily indicative of similarly high predation rates across the entirety of Alabama or the Southeast.
Predators will never be eradicated from Southeastern habitats. They are far too adaptable. Some even increase their reproduction when their populations are reduced if existing habitat is suitable for survival. Predator removal can be effective, however, if game populations are below carrying capacity; if predators are determined to be the limiting factor; if predator populations are reduced by at least 70 percent; and if predator removal is accomplished immediately prior to the fawning or nesting period. Even so, predator removal should generally be viewed as a short-term solution until significant habitat deficiencies can be corrected. For more information on predator removal, contact the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife Section.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit www.outdooralabama.com.