Coyote hunters often justify their “sport” with claims that, East of the Mississippi, coyotes are an invasive species and therefore detrimental to our ecosystem.
If coyotes were truly “invasive,” that would certainly be a problem. Invasive species are animals that unnaturally enter an area due to humans, such as nutria, feral hogs, and outdoor cats. Truly invasive animals do cause serious problems when unchecked. The coyote, however, is not one of these species.
Coyotes are relative newcomers to the Eastern United States— that much is true. Although they did live here during the last ice age and played a role in the genesis of our native red wolf, they were gone for over 12,000 years between their last stand and their current presence.
After their prolonged absence, coyotes did come back across the Mississippi, but they were not artificially introduced here by humans. Rather, they naturally expanded their range to fill the holes that humans left in the ecosystem when we eliminated apex predators like bears, pumas, and wolves. In the absence of large predators, our deer, rabbit, and rodent populations exploded and coyotes arrived to help restore balance, and they have done just that.
Ecosystems change over time. Species adapt, move, and die— this is the pattern of nature that we all live with. Coyotes haven’t come to the Eastern US in a way that is artificial or detrimental, but have naturally introduced themselves exactly where they were needed.