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Predator Killing Contests in California
Did you know that killing contests are common in California and the rest of the country? Hard to believe, isn’t it? Here we are in the second decade of the 21st century, a march of civilization toward greater understanding of the world, the solar system, the galaxy and beyond, back all the way to the bang that began it all. And still there is debate if it makes sense (for men and boys, mostly, although certainly women and girls aren’t excluded) to attempt to kill the most, the biggest, the most rare – by whatever metric – to kill for competition; – to slaughter for a reward.
A short list of the species targeted by killing contests includes, pigeons, raccoons, doves, bobcat, prairie dog, woodchuck, deer, turkey, crow, wolf and of course, the least protected or respected mammal native to North America, coyote.
Coyote ‘calling’ contests, in which teams of hunters often using battery powered coyote callers attract coyotes so that they can be shot, are held nearly everywhere. At the time of this writing there is a contest underway in Washington state. There is also an online predator killing contest open to hunters across all of the United States and Canada currently being held that is sponsored by Foxpro, a maker of coyote and other wildlife callers. (Contestants are encouraged to post “tasteful” photos of the predators they’ve killed. Raccoons, badgers and wolverines are worth 1 point, coyotes, bobcats and lynx are worth 2, wolves, 3 and cougars are the big prize, worth 5 points.)
Coyote killed after being called in to range. These kids were taught this.
Even highly urbanized New Jersey holds coyote killing contests. In some the one who has shot the most pounds of coyotes wins. In others it is the quantity of individual animals, in other contests other criteria may obtain.
Just a month ago in February, 40 Coyotes were killed in the annual Big Valley Coyote Drive sponsored by Adin Supply Co. in Modoc County, California. Tens of thousands of people, led by Project Coyote, petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission in 2013 to stop that year’s drive to no avail. Wildlife advocates continued to press for reform, by petition as well as by expert testimony to persuade the Commission to prohibit these contests.
On the eve of this year’s Modoc contest, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to put consideration of prohibition of such contests on their agenda. Speaking in favor of this review, Commission President, Mike Sutton is reported to have said he’s “been concerned about these killing contests for some time. They seem inconsistent both with ethical standards of hunting and our current understanding of the important role predators play in ecosystems.”
Though small, this is an historic movement toward co-existence with coyotes. Reviled by the ranchers and sporthunters who’ve been re-shaping North America for over 400 years, coyote’s eradication has been at the heart of nearly indiscriminate state-conducted and state-sanctioned trapping, shooting and poisoning wherever coyotes may live.
AB2402 and Congressman Jared Huffman
What’s driving this change? A remarkable California law known as AB2402. Before his election to congress representing the North Coast in November 2012, Jared Huffman was a member of California’s State Assembly, where he chaired the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. February 2012, he introduced AB2402, a bill that would make a few minor adjustments to California’s Department of Fish and Game(DFG), that when carried out, would make for sweeping change.
Seemingly superficial, AB2402 changes DFG’s name to the Department of Fish and Wildlife – a change intended to reflect the conservationist mission of the agency. In keeping with this, AB2402 also requires the Department and the Commission to:
use ecosystem-based management informed by credible science in all resource management decisions to the extent feasible. It is further the policy of the state that scientific professionals at the department and commission, and all resource management decisions of the department and commission, be governed by a scientific quality assurance and integrity policy, and follow well-established standard protocols of the scientific profession, including, but not limited to, the use of peer review, publication,and science review panels where appropriate. Resource management decisions of the department and commission should also incorporate adaptive management to the extent possible.
Science-based ecosystem management is not exactly the language of respect for Mother Earth. Still, this law now demands that predator management policy must at least follow the basic precept of making sure that methods actually achieve goals. Definitions of the terms ‘adaptive-management,’ ‘credible science’ and ‘ecosystem-based management’ are also supplied in the text of AB2402 (see below).
The science of coyote management has already demonstrated that lethal measures, intended to reduce populations, presumably because of actual or potential damages to ‘livestock’ or ‘game herds,’ don’t work. Coyotes’ reproduction increases when they are stressed. Shooting a member of their family group is an obvious cause of such stress, as any member of any family group ought to be able to understand. Coyotes fight back and their most formidable weapons are adaptation and renewal. Or, as apparent although unheeded folk-wisdom among ranchers in Wyoming states it, “kill one coyote, two appear.”
Still the barbarism of the past persists. The coyote enjoys absolutely no protection whatsoever in the current California mammal hunting regulations. In fact, they are expressly mentioned in this regard in Chapter 6, Section 472(a):
The following nongame birds and mammals may be taken at any time of the year and in any number except as prohibited in Chapter 6: English sparrow, starling, coyote, weasels, skunks, opossum, moles and rodents (excluding tree and flying squirrels, and those listed as furbearers, endangered or threatened species).
There are no limits imposed by the state on killing coyotes.
AB2402 may have a much wider revolutionary effect than the Assembly and Senate even knew. Or perhaps the change in perspective over the last hundred years in Western science that has agreed in some respects with a more holistic apporach to life and the web of life is finally beginning to stick.
Whatever the cause for this change, the mandate for peer-reviewed, science- and ecosystem-based management has led to the creation of the Wildlife Resources Committee within California’s Fish and Game Commission to review predator management policy. This has the potential to go a long way toward peaceful co-existence and proper respect for coyotes and other maligned predators.
Wildlife Agencies Need Your Input
Now the Commission will formally decide on the regulations regarding killing contests as well as predator management overall. In a few days, 19 March, the Commission will meet via teleconference with key locations across the state hosting gathering places for public participation. On 16 April in Ventura, coyote contests will be on the Commission’s agenda for discussion. A vote is expected at either the June meeting in Fortuna or in August when the Commission meets in San Diego. (click here for FGC meeting schedule)
Meanwhile, predator management review has been taken up by the Wildlife Resources Committee, co-chaired by commissioners Jack Bayliss and Jim Kellogg. Their next meeting will be in San Francisco, 7 May. Public participation in these meetings is important.
Right now, you can help the Commission understand that these wanton, violent wastes of wild lives interfere with the will of the people to modernize the Department and strive to meet the actual science-based goals of wildlife conservation. To support the Commission in finding that Californians want these contests prohibited please sign Project Coyote’s online petition here – also, use their well-crafted letter to send a stronger message to the Fish and Game Commission as well as the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife urging these agencies to carry forward the good work begun in 2012 with AB2402. (see below for a brief explanation of the roles of the Commission and the Department)
Killing Contests Must End
Killing contests, for any species, are outmoded, outdated, and an out and out shameful vestige of a more ignorant time. Let’s return to our right relationship with Mother Earth. Let’s show Coyote we’ve learned a few things.
Let’s show Coyote and all that is wild the respect they deserve.
Coyote pup at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center June 2013 – this orphaned pup’s mother was shot and killed. He was released 3 months later. photo Laura Corsiglia/BAX
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new definition of terms for California Fish and Game Code
Adaptive management means management that improves the management of biological resources over time by using new information gathered through monitoring, evaluation, and other credible sources as they become available, and adjusts management strategies and practices to assist in meeting conservation and management goals. Under adaptive management, program actions are viewed as tools for learning to inform future actions.
Credible science means the best available scientific information that is not overly prescriptive due to the dynamic nature of science, and includes the evaluation principles of relevance, inclusiveness, objectivity, transparency, timeliness, verification, validation, and peer review of information as appropriate. Credible science also recognizes the need for adaptive management (preceding) as scientific knowledge evolves.
Ecosystem-based management means an environmental management approach relying on credible science, as defined above, that recognizes the full array of interactions within an ecosystem, including humans, rather than considering single issues, species, or ecosystem services in isolation.
How the Fish and Game Commission and the Department of Fish and Game interact, briefly and oversimplified:
For those unfamiliar with how these agencies interact, the legislature introduces bills that might eventually become law. The Fish and Game Commission is tasked with turning that legislative mandate into regulations and policy which will be executed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, through law enforcement and scientific observation. As an example, say it became law to protect crows. First, after the governor signs the bill, the Fish and Game Commission may review existing regulations, determiming that a crow season with a daily bag limit of 24 and a possession limit of 48 doesn’t meet the new code stating that crows may not be taken except as permitted in the case of human health risks, livestock depradation or crop damage amounting to more than $25,000. So, the Fish and Game Commission now writes a new regulation that eliminates crow season. Wildlife Officers begin citing violators and biologists continue to study crows and crow populations, monitoring for effectiveness of the regulations as well as their necessity.