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Warmer winters and a depressed hide market have been a boon for coyotes roaming the Prairies in recent years.

And problems with thriving coyote populations in rural areas have gotten so bad, Saskatchewan is now financing a provincewide bounty program.

Each dead coyote is worth $20. To get the cash, hunters have to turn over the animal's paws to authorities.

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While coyote bounties already exist in some Alberta and Saskatchewan municipalities, it's the first time the program has operated provincewide. Saskatchewan's pilot program will run until March 31, and then the province will make a decision on whether to extend it.

The Saskatchewan government says it needs the reward program to help cut down on the number of coyotes that attack or kill farm animals, including sheep and cows.

But conservation groups and even government officials next door in Alberta aren't convinced it's the best way to deal with a growing population.

Phil Merrill, an Alberta Agriculture official, said while bounty programs can be effective in small geographic areas, such as a farm or a small municipality, they are less successful over a larger space.

"A bounty just mainly lowers the population of animals rather than zeroing in on a particular problem animal," he explained.

Weather, Mr. Merrill said, is one of the best natural ways to control the coyote population. "A hard winter, anywhere in Alberta, really reduces the number of coyotes." The reason? They have less food to eat.

Mr. Merrill said the Alberta government currently supports municipal coyote control programs by providing training and research. Livestock producers can better protect their animals by using simple strategies, including guard dogs, he added.

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Back in Saskatchewan, the government's coyote bounty program has received mixed reviews from farmers and ranchers. One told a Regina newspaper that the program is "one of the greatest things that's ever been announced in the history" of the province, but others are concerned it's the wrong way to deal with an animal that also preys on gophers, another farm pest.

Despite the controversy, the bounty program has already attracted takers since it began Nov. 10. In the rural municipality of Lipton, east of Regina, remains of nine coyotes have been turned over to officials.

That municipality previously offered a $10 bounty on coyotes, so hunters there are now eligible to receive $30 per kill.

Dave Mandziak administers Lipton's coyote control program, but isn't personally convinced it's needed across Saskatchewan. He's concerned the province's program is a "knee-jerk" government reaction to recent local media reports showing livestock being attacked by coyotes.

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