California is in the hunt for a more humane way to manage its coyote population, much to the consternation of fun-seekers in the town of Adin, in Modoc County, who cherish their slaughter of the wild animals at the annual Big Valley Coyote Drive.
The California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-2 last week to begin a process that could result in a ban on the hunting of coyotes for bounty and sport. The decision came after it received 13,000 letters protesting the three-day February event at which around 40 coyotes were shot and submitted for prizes. Interested parties now have until August to submit comments on the proposed regulation that would make it illegal to offer a monetary or other form of prize for killing predators.
Thousands of such contests reportedly take place across the country, but California tends to discourage killing contests in the wild. However, the fact is, just about anyone with a hunting license in the state can kill as many coyotes as they want any time and any place they can shoot a gun.
The state passed Assembly Bill 2402 in 2012 which, in the words of KCET reporter Chris Clarke, “would seem on the face of it to work against managing complex predator-prey-livestock interactions by killing all the coyotes in sight.” The law requires “ecosystem-based management . . . that recognizes the full array of interactions with an ecosystem, including humans, rather than considering single issues, species, or ecosystem services in isolation.”
Commission President Michael Sutton told Clarke, “They [coyote hunts] seem inconsistent both with ethical standards of hunting and our current understanding of the important role predators play in ecosystems.”
Some locals in Modoc County say the coyote-killing contest helps get rid of predators that plague the community while others maintain, in a slightly contradictory fashion, that the contest does little harm because only a small percentage of area coyotes are killed.
Conservationists like Camilla Fox at Project Coyote argue that it's not about thinning the predator herd because shooting random coyotes actually has the opposite effect. Coyote's are social animals and breaking up family groups where only the lead parents can breed results in more breeding. Fox told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Killing wildlife en masse for fun and prizes is callous, disrespectful and violent.”
Critics of the hunt say there are few complaints about coyotes preying on people, pets or livestock and, if anything, the predators help keep down rodent populations.
What it probably comes down to is there are people who like to hunt coyotes and build a social event around the activity. Ninety-five two-person teams competed for prizes in this year’s Big Valley Coyote Drive in Adin, “slugging it out over wet ground,” according to Frank Galusha at MyOutdoor Buddy.com. “When they started piling into the Center, they were still wearing camo clothing. Some had camo paint on their faces. Most wore heavy hunting boots that were splattered with mud. Many brought their families and young children, including babies.”
Each team paid $50 to enter. The winner killed seven coyotes by the deadline. The entire group killed 42 by the deadline. Presumably a few were whacked too late to count.
If coyote hunting contests are banned by the state, that might not be the end of them. The Center for Biological Diversity quoted a letter to the editor of the Modoc County Recorder from Sheriff Mike Poindexter just before last year's hunt that encouraged participants to blow off federal authorities if they get caught shooting critters on federal land (which is illegal.)
He wrote that he wouldn't “tolerate any restriction of legal hunting on our public lands” and recommended that anyone questioned by federal authorities “cooperate but stand their ground and call the Sheriff's Office.”