CA Bans Wildlife Hunting Contests

Wile E. Coyote is smirking.

Despite a robust and thriving population, coyotes have just received an unprecedented degree of legal protection from the Golden State. Bringing a longstanding rural tradition to an end, the California Fish and Game Commission cracked down on competitive hunting events, including those used to cull the animals.

Perhaps ironically, coyotes — and other “nongame species and fur-bearing animals” like bobcats and and beavers covered by the prize hunting ban — had a single, lone wolf to thank.

Animal conservation activists became aware that a particular wolf, known by the designation OR7 and nicknamed “Journey,” could have placed itself on a migratory collision course with a so-called “Coyote Drive.” The event, stretching across three days in California’s remote northeast county of Modoc, had already attracted the attention of protestors, as the San Francisco Chronicle observed.

Last year’s seventh annual drive drew fire from a score of conservation groups. In the contest, pairs of hunters aimed to win by killing the most coyotes; ties went to whichever team bagged the most coyotes in the least time.

While event organizers presented the drive as a means of population control, Project Coyote and other organizations succeeded in pushing the federal Bureau of Land Management to prohibit the drive on terrain it controls.

That effective mobilizing effort prepared the way for a second round of activism targeting California law. Claiming the Coyote Drive was simply one aspect of a larger problem, Project Coyote once again teamed with environmentalists and wildlife activists, pressing state regulators to wipe out prize hunting at a single stroke.

Again, they succeeded. By a 4-1 vote, the state Fish and Game Commission outlawed hunting competitions of any kind. In a statement, commission head Michael Sutton proclaimed the hunts “an anachronism” with “no place in modern wildlife management.” (Conservationists had argued that the Coyote Drive actually increased the animals’ breeding, as a result of the effectively random way it reduced their numbers.)

Persistent incentives

Although cash prizes in the Coyote Drive ran as high as $500, ranchers and rural Californians said plenty of incentives remained for them to kill coyotes that threaten their livelihood. The Fish and Game Commission did not ban one-off killings, and big money of a different kind awaits those willing to train a gun on the often marauding animals.

As Fox News noted, the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed cattle ranchers in-state “lost more than $4 million in 2010 to predators, and coyotes accounted for the largest number of attacks.”

Buck Parks, president of a Modoc County fishing and hunting club, told Fox News ranchers would “encourage folks to get out and help manage these predators by hunting them,” even if no prize events could be held.

Tolerant

Until further notice, California will remain as tolerant toward informal coyote kills as other states, most of which have not imposed bag limits on individual hunters. Outlawing or reducing that activity would pose a much greater challenge to activists, for whom the case for a ban would hinge more on animal-rights claims than on conservation.

Nevertheless, the defeat of the Coyote Drive has shifted policy in California far away from what state regulations permit around the country. “Frenchville, Pennsylvania, saw 4,000 hunters sign up for its 22nd annual coyote hunt earlier this year,” reported National Public Radio’s Nathan Rott. “Florida has its Python Challenge, and Texas, its Big Nasty Hog Contest.”

But Camilla Fox, one of Project Coyote’s founders, told Rott she and her fellow activists saw California’s prize hunt ban as a model with nationwide applicability. Hinting at a broader approach to come, she conjectured that “just as we have, as a nation, banned cockfighting and dog fighting, I do think that we will see an end to wildlife-killing contests.”

This article was originally published at CalWatchdog.com