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Saskatchewan farmers complained coyotes were preying on sheep and other livestock. ((Submitted by Vera Csada))

More than 71,000 coyotes have been killed under a bounty program run by the Saskatchewan government — a number far greater than what Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud had predicted earlier.

Under the program that ran from November 2009 to March 2010, people had to bring in the paws to be paid $20 an animal.

Bjornerud said in February he hoped there would be 35,000 coyotes killed by the time the program ended.

The final tally was much higher, likely because hunters were saving up paws, he said.

"At the end of March ... they would bring them all in at once," he said. "The average was about 14 or 15 [coyotes] per applicant but I think the highest was about 90."

The province spent about $1.5 million on the bounty program, which was introduced in response to complaints by ranchers that coyote numbers were up and the animals were preying on livestock.

However, some questioned whether it was the wisest use of tax dollars. In a typical year, with no bounty offered, Saskatchewan hunters kill about 21,000 coyotes, the Environment Department said.

Bjornerud said the pilot project is not likely to be repeated unless farmers complain again in the future about too many coyotes.