COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina wildlife officials have released 16 more coyotes with special tags. If hunters harvest them, they will receive a free lifetime hunting license.

According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the incentive was created in an effort to limit the population of coyotes. They are animals commonly known to prey on small animals, and in some cases, your pets.

DNR has been releasing the tagged coyotes since 2016, when lawmakers created the ‘Coyote Harvest Incentive Program’ in an effort to control the population.

“The incentive is that they can win if they get the tagged coyote. Either they will get, or they can give their child, or friend, or somebody a lifetime hunting license, which is valued at several hundred dollars,” said Greg Lucas, a spokesperson with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Each year, DNR said they trap, tag, and release four coyotes per game zone. A total of 16 per trapping season.

“We are trying to get hunters to harvest as many coyotes as possible. They are not a native species. They have been here 35+ years now and they are in all 46 counties,” said Lucas.

Wildlife agents have tagged nearly 100 coyotes since the program first began. According to officials, only about half of the tags have been claimed.

The state’s DNR says nearly 25,000 coyotes were harvested in 2020, which is a significant decrease from the previous years. But, it’s not just a game that wildlife officials are promoting. According to the DNR, the incentive program plays a vital role in managing the wildlife population.

Studies over the past two decades have shown coyotes attack deer and have caused a 30% decrease in South Carolina’s deer population. The wildlife agency said coyotes can also attack other small game and pets.

“We have not found that coyotes are not any real danger to humans. They don’t pack up like wolves do. They don’t hunt that way and they don’t seem to have much of an effect on humans,” said Lucas. “But, they are having an effect, as we said, on the deer population, small dogs and cats, pets, and also on some livestock, like young sheep, young cows, young horses, chickens, those kinds of things.” 

The wildlife agency said the harvest incentive program will not completely eliminate coyotes from South Carolina. Rather, it will decrease the population.

Additionally, a spokesperson with the South Carolina DNR said annually releasing 16 tagged coyotes will not have much of an impact on the growth of the animal population. He said there are tens-of-thousands of coyotes in the state. Releasing 16 animals is a very small percentage compared to the statewide population.

According to DNR, the unique tags are challenging to see from a distance. However, once the coyotes are harvested, the hunters will be able to see them up close. On each tag there are directions on who to contact to claim your life-time hunting license.

For more information on the ‘Coyote Harvest Incentive Program,’ click here.