WEST AUGUSTA, Va. – Prowling coyotes have become so prevalent in rural Virginia that some residents are stringing up multiple carcasses from tree branches at farms and ranches.
An Associated Press photographer traveling the back roads of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley this week captured images of a dozen dead coyotes swaying from a roadside tree in the tiny mountain town of West Augusta. They were hung with ropes knotted around their back legs.
Mike Fies, a wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said there are no population control benefits to stringing up dead coyotes. He said the rural practice is possibly a holdover from the days when ranchers were paid bounties for each carcass.
He believes it's not a great idea to hang the dead critters in plain public view, saying public perception is generally negative and seeing the rotting carcasses could be upsetting to some people, including young children.
"Recognizing that coyotes can sometimes cause significant livestock damage in some areas, their carcasses should still be respectfully disposed of," he said.
Calls to the farm where the dozen coyote carcasses were photographed went unanswered Friday.
During winter months, when coyotes' fur is the thickest, some Virginia residents make extra cash selling pelts to fur dealers for roughly $11 each. Coyote fur is frequently used for the trim of coats and jackets.
There's a continuous open season on the generally nocturnal creatures in Virginia and numerous other states, where their yips, barks and howls can be heard in rural communities, suburbs and occasionally cities. Coyotes have even been found roaming around New York City's Central Park over the years.
Coyotes crossed the Mississippi River more than 80 years ago and began colonizing Virginia and other states in the late 1970s. The predators can live just about anywhere there's food, and they are a significant headache for ranchers of sheep due to the economic losses.
Although the creatures have long been entrenched in Virginia's western and central regions, the population of the non-native species is still growing in eastern parts of the state, according to Fies.
"They're found in every single county. They're here to stay," Fies said, adding that the large majority of coyotes don't pose any threat to people.
Associated Press writer David McFadden contributed to this report from Baltimore.