Pa. Wildlife Officials Quash Coyote-Deer Risk Management Rumor

December 29, 2004

Did you hear the one about the insurance agent and the coyote?

So have the Pennsylvania Game Commission, wildlife agencies in other states and insurers.

They all dismiss as urban legend claims that insurance companies and wildlife agencies release coyotes in hopes of reducing deer-car collision claims.

“There’s a lot of people that seriously believe that the agency has been doing this,” said Carl Graybill, director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s bureau of information and education. “The whole thing’s pretty absurd.”

While the agency doesn’t track such claims, Graybill said wildlife conversation officers are occasionally questioned in the field about it.

It’s illegal for anyone to release animals into the wild without a permit and the agency hasn’t issued any permits to insurance companies, Graybill said. Variations substitute other predators for coyotes.

Like other rumors, this one seems to begin with someone who knows someone who knows someone who killed a coyote that has a tattoo, ear tag or collar from an insurance company, Graybill said.

Graybill said the commission has asked that such coyotes be brought in.

“No one ever comes forward with any proof that it occurred,” Graybill said “People can be very gullible, too.”

Over the last several weeks, Erie Insurance Group has had calls about the issue.

“It’s just a fallacy. It’s just not true. That’s just not a way that we would manage our risks,” said spokesman Mark Dombrowski. Instead, Erie Insurance advises policyholders how to avoid deer by being alert in deer areas and using high beams when possible.

The rumor has been around for at least a half-dozen years and is in other states. The rumor came up at a conservation education summit recently in West Virginia, Graybill said.

“Many times, I’ve been pointedly asked that question by a number of individuals,” said Ray Knotts, district wildlife biologist for West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resource’s Wildlife Resources section.

“We have never released coyotes and have no intentions of doing so,” said Knotts, adding it’s illegal to release coyotes into the wild in that state.”It’s preposterous to the point of being funny, almost.”

To be sure, deer-car collisions are costly for insurers.

About 150 people are killed in deer collisions annually and collisions cause more than $1.1 billion in vehicle damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Last year, Erie Insurance paid out nearly $60 million for 29,000 claims filed by customers — about $2,040 per claim. Erie Insurance insures 2.4 million vehicles and deer claims account for nearly 40 percent of its comprehensive losses.

A companion rumor is that insurance companies somehow try to influence deer management practices to reduce the number deer, but Graybill and Knotts deny that, too.

Knotts said he thinks that unsuccessful hunters are simply looking for an excuse as to why they haven’t bagged a deer.

“The coyote right now is just a good scapegoat,” Knotts said.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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