The Saskatchewan government paid hunters and landowners $1.5 million to kill 71,000 coyotes during its pilot control program.That number surpassed agriculture minister Bob Bjornerud’s expectations and far exceeded the estimates provided during the program’s November 2009 to March 2010 run.In a typical year, normal hunting and trapping kills about 35,000 coyotes. In late March Bjornerud estimated about 30,000 had been killed.However, it appears many of the hunters didn’t apply for the $20 per coyote payment until the program ended, which led to a huge jump in the number, he said.Hunters had to turn in all four paws from one animal to be eligible for the money.“The average number was about 14, 15 (coyotes) per applicant but I think the highest we had was about 90,” Bjornerud told reporters.Eighty percent of the province’s 296 rural municipalities participated.Bjornerud took criticism from across Canada for the program but he said something had to be done to prevent the types of phone calls he was getting from rural residents.“(Coyotes) were … coming right in the yards, coming in the porches eating out of dog dishes,” he said.Some family pets had been killed and people were worried about the safety of young children, he added.“We certainly didn’t start out to eradicate coyotes in the province,” Bjornerud said. “That wasn’t our intent at all, but we had to do something with the number of problems that was creating with calves and sheep.”As the pilot program ended, Bjornerud announced a new wildlife damage compensation program available through Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. This program compensates producers 100 percent for livestock killed by predators and 80 percent of the market value of an injured animal.He said about 1,000 calls have already come in and 80 percent of the cases involve coyotes. Another 20 to 25 calls have involved bears.Officials will continue to watch the coyote population through the summer but Bjornerud said he didn’t intend to implement an ongoing control program.“Maybe 71,000 isn’t even a small percentage of the number of coyotes out there,” he said. “Part of our problem is we don’t know how many coyotes are out there.”And with new litters of pups on the way, the problem could escalate.The NDP opposition said the government spent too much money on the program when it could have used the money to keep funding Dutch elm disease and West Nile disease control programs.Bjornerud added that if a coyote had killed someone, as has happened in Nova Scotia, he would have been criticized for not acting sooner.That province has introduced a “pelt incentive” of $20 per coyote for licensed trappers.