Cumberland Times-News

March 23, 2013

W.Va. ag chief has coyote plan

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— The only thing I can figure is that Walt Helmick has been watching the Diamond Jim thing unfold in Maryland during the past several years.

Helmick is West Virginia’s commissioner of agriculture, but for many years was an elected state senator and represented citizens in some of the counties within the circulation area of the Cumberland Times-News.

During my newspaper career, I’ve interviewed pretty much every elected official who represented some geographical portion of our readership. Most of those interviews were highly forgettable.

An interview with Walt Helmick does not fall into that category. It doesn’t take long during a conversation with Helmick to understand how he got elected so many times. He’s witty, friendly, knowledgable and interested in the conversation, all in a real down home, country sort of way. One can get the impression that the voice on the other end of the line is a combination of Will Rogers, Mark Twain, Jim Comstock and Larry the Cable Guy.

So, when I saw Helmick’s recent plan to knock down the West Virginia coyote population that is chewing on his constituents’ sheep, I wasn’t a bit surprised. The commissioner is definitely thinking outside the cardboard.

Coyotes are in all 55 counties and pose a threat to both farm animals and domestic pets, Helmick noted.

“More of them are being born than we’re removing. They’re winning the battle,” Helmick told The Register-Herald in Beckley.

“We spend a significant amount of money on predator control. About half a million dollars. The feds helped us out a few years ago but aren’t doing anything at all now. We’ve lost the federal support.”

Helmick’s idea is similar to the Diamond Jim program run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. In that fishing carnival, the state tags rockfish and the angler catching the rockfish with the right tag can win thousands of dollars.

The Register-Herald reported that under Helmick’s plan, coyotes would be trapped and their ears would be marked with an identifying number. They would then be released in a different area. Hunters who kill a coyote marked with a number would receive a bounty.

Helmick believes, it would seem, that killing the captured coyote would rid the Mountain State of one canine predator, but tagging it and offering a cash prize would result in the death of many more ‘yotes. The commissioner figures the hunters will shoot first and sort them out later, looking for that ear tag.

“Hunters will be out there all the time, looking for this type of opportunity, and will probably kill another 25 trying to get to that one, or maybe even kill 100 of them,” he said.

While Maryland’s program sells more licenses, Helmick’s project would kill more coyotes.

Details of the plan, such as the bounty amount, are still being worked out. Helmick told The Register-Herald he wants to expand the state’s sheep industry. But he said that will be difficult unless the coyote population is reduced.

A personal anecdote shared by Helmick with The Register-Herald shows that coyotes are wily.

Helmick said his son, Brian, had rigged bells at his home in Charleston that the family’s cat could ring when it wanted to go outside or come inside. A coyote pounced on the cat one night as soon as the feline rang the bell and stepped outside.

“That coyote had figured out the bell,” Helmick said. “He knew that sooner or later, that cat was going out. He had watched before when the bell rang.”

If I had been Helmick or his son and had it been my cat that was chewed, I would have confronted the coyote’s owner, Ivan Pavlov.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.