What About Predator Control?
Habitat enhancement is the most “natural” way to minimize predation. This involves manipulating the habitat to favor the prey species. Generally, the more cover available to a prey species the better its odds of survival. Habitat enhancement ranges from strategic brush removal to subtle changes in grazing. The goal should not be to improve only isolated patches of the landscape, but rather to make the landscape uniformly habitable. This allows the prey species to use the entire site to escape from predators. Prey animals naturally concentrate along creek banks and in other special habitats (for example, isolated turkey roosts), but unnatural concentrations can occur near supplemental feeding areas. Any concentration of prey attracts predators and may make it easier for them to catch a meal.
Before implementing a predator management program, you should have some idea of the density and the survival of the offspring of the prey species you want to protect. Let’s use deer as an example: If your deer density is below carrying capacity (the number the habitat can support) and you have low fawn survival then removing coyotes just prior to fawning season might be helpful, but if you have a 50% or greater fawn survival then it might not be worth the effort. Major predators for ground nesting birds such as turkey or quail are probably raccoons and bobcats. If you only remove the larger predators you may allow a proliferation of smaller ones that can have unexpected impacts.
To determine if a predator management program is achieving its goals you should do annual surveys on the prey species and keep record of your trapping effort and success. All wildlife populations rise and fall. Predation may be a minor problem one year but a major one the next. Game populations may or may not respond to predator control as anticipated. Drought, disease, weather extremes and other environmental factors can affect the result of a control program.
Trapping and snaring are the most effective tools landowners have to remove predators but learning which are the most efficient and humane tools for the job and how to use them effectively takes time and experience. There are several trapping supply companies that sell books and videos on trapping that include trap and snare selection. The internet is the best source to find these stores. One good site is RP Outdoors 1-800-762-2706 (www.rpoutdoors.com/). It is a good idea to get a book or DVD on the subject and educate yourself before you purchase foot hold traps or snares. You will be more successful and probably save money in the log run.
You do not have to have a license to trap predators in Texas if you do not retain or sell the pelts. You will need a hunting license to shoot them and a trapper’s license in order to keep or sell the pelts.
If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wildlifebiologist.