Conservation Disaster: Coyote Killing Contests in Wolf Country

This weekend, a coyote killing contest — that is, a contest to see which human can kill the most coyotes — will be held on public lands in Lake County, Oregon — wilderness areas (national forest and BLM land) that the public pays for, including those people who happen to love wilderness and wildlife. Over a bloodbath of a weekend, hunters compete to kill as many coyotes as they can. Raise your hand if that sounds like sensible conservation. But wait, it gets better.

Why?

1). Biology. Let’s pretend for a moment that coyote populations are a problem. Killing mass amounts of coyotes in one fell swoop results in female coyotes naturally, biologically, producing more pups and more frequently. It is a proven fact that our current methods of killing coyotes in contests and using Wildlife Services results in, wait for it.. MORE COYOTES. Furthermore, coyotes – as a keystone species – are fundamental to their ecosystems (as are wolves). Coyotes control overpopulation of other wildlife like rodents, rabbits, deer and geese. These songdogs (as traditionally known by natives) also have benefit bird populations by preying on small mammals who prey on birds or eggs.

2). Populations. Again, let’s pretend for a moment that coyote populations are a problem. Slaughtering a region’s worth of coyotes has proven to result in one thing, MORE COYOTESAnd not just because they reproduce more, but because new coyotes move in from neighboring territories.

3). Wolves. Again, allowing ourselves to pretend that coyote populations are a problem, let’s understand that wolves — who are endangered — are in this same wild territory. Hunters have historically used the “I thought it was a coyote” excuse to illegally poach wolves. Hunters have used this excuse even though 35lb dog-sized coyotes are distinguishable from 120lb wolves, from a distance. A loophole known as the McKittrick policy has allowed poachers to get off scot-free from violating the federal Endangered Species Act when they slaughter wolves. As if the responsibility for knowing which animal is which doesn’t reside with the human pointing a gun at it. This disastrous loophole is being challenged and will continue to be in courts of law by brave conservationists. And that brings us to:

4). The Law.

“This contest is unethical, cruel and risks violating federal law,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves are fully federally protected throughout the entirety of Lake County, so federal wildlife- and land-management officials have a duty to do everything in their power to protect them.”

How can it be legal to allow irresponsible killers to recklessly slaughter animals who appear very similar to federally protected animals who live in that region, and to kill them in a manner that is proven, over and over not to work at controlling their population?

5). Effective, Efficient, Ecological, Humane Predator Control Exists Already. Okay, finally we’ve made it to this point.Let’s stop pretending for a moment that coyote populations are a problem. Let’s admit that human populations are the problem. Humans have moved into coyote territory and built communities, ranches, and other forms of urban development. As we eradicated the humans living on the land (natives) in the past, we still continue to think that exterminating any form of wildlife that we perceive as impacting our development is our right, is effective, is moral, is sound practice.

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But nonlethal predator control – that is protecting human populations, livestock, and communities from wildlife – is best done by coexisting with wildlife. It has proven to be more effective at controlling population size (for the reasons stated above, coyote populations only reproduce exponentially when their individual members are killed), more economically efficient (particularly in the reduction of public funds allocated to ineffective wildlife ‘management’), more ethical (by coexisting – and ethical hunting  by the way is hunting that is subsistence hunting, that is cautious, careful, humane, takes only what will be eaten and respects and values the integrity of the animal: coyote killing contests as a race to kill as many animals as possible is clearly inhumane and reprehensible for its careless treatment of wildlife) and clearly safer for other wildlife (and humans).

Nonlethal predator control works. Using at least two methods: fences, cleaning up bone sites, concentrating livestock into certain areas, and using deterrents like guard dogs, guard llamas, riders, sound monitors, and visual deterrents like flashing lights and flagry, has proven to be more effective, ethical, and cost efficient than any other method of predator control.

So why wouldn’t these methods be used? Some ranchers don’t know about them. That’s why it is important to spread the word and share resources as much as possible. But other situations are not because of a lack of knowledge, but something else… including seedy corrupt ol’ boy links between the livestock industry, local politicians and Wildlife Services.

But what about killing contests? Last year, California banned killing contests for prizes, leading the way as that state often does in wildlife protections. Here’s the thing about coyote killing contests — I think the people who participate in them don’t really care if it works. They just like killing. Think about that.

They just like killing.

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Many hunters, who enjoy the sport of hunting and their traditions, rituals, and accomplishments (like feeding their families, being outdoors, the mental and physical challenge, reawakening their instincts) find killing contests totally reprehensible.

So this isn’t about people who enjoy hunting, who may respect the animals they hunt. This is about people who enjoy the act of killing – not for food and subsistence. They just like killing. I know people who participate in these contests, and they aren’t hunters, they’re psychotic. They hate coyotes for being coyotes. They like killing.

And they really like killing coyotes, who are unfairly demonized with a voracity that is hard to understand. In states like Oregon and California, coyotes can be killed with almost no legal limit. No bag limit, no hunting/killing season, no concern with the method of killing, and no concern with the effect on ecosystems of the local populations of coyotes OR the habitats and ecosystems who literally depend on coyotes to thrive.

We need predators. Nature needs predators – and we need nature, not just aesthetically, but for our very survival. The real conflict is threefold a) some people don’t understand that killing contests don’t work b) some people don’t care and just like killing c) some people believe they have a greater right to their pleasure than others do to life and to enjoying wildlife: that is to say, some people feel that they should kill the animals (like coyotes and wolves) who are killing the animals (like deer) that the hunters want to kill or the animals (like cattle and sheep) that ranchers want to sell us as food. This system is broken.

When did we stop valuing the ability of the wild to regulate itself?

I was so proud of one of my best friends last year when she used the legal system to shut down a killing contest in Harney County, Oregon. And I’m proud of the work we do at the Center for Biological Diversity to take on Wildlife Services, a whole other can of worms when it comes to killing coyotes and endangering wolves (ask your Board of Supervisors if your public dollars are going to employ this rogue agency — whose motto is “shoot, shovel and shut up” — and you’ll likely be horrified to find out that you are paying for inhumane slaughter of wildlife when better methods exist). But we need to do more.

We need:

  • greater protections for coyotes – (read, any protections for coyotes)
  • a federal or state by state ban on predator killing contests.
  • federal agencies to truly protect animals entrusted to their care, as it is these agencies who are allowing killing contests on federal/public lands.
  • an information campaign, like the work Project Coyote and so many others are doing, to cross the aisle and talk to ranchers who want to do the right thing by implementing nonlethal methods and finding community support to help them.
  • to close the McKittrick loophole down, once and for all.

Most of all, we need to learn to coexist with the wild.

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