The weekend's heavy rains may have put a damper on an annual coyote killing contest centered in the Modoc County town of Adin, but the close of the event took an unexpected turn anyway: with an alleged assault by the contest's main sponsor on an opponent of the event.
Adin resident Roger Hopping, who has publicly expressed his opposition to the controversial coyote hunt in years past, told ReWild that he was shoved to the ground by Adin Supply Company owner Steve Gagnon after Hopping photographed participants in the 2014 Coyote Drive. Hopping, who is 73 years old, was diagnosed with a compression fracture in his lower back as a result of the fall.
The alleged assault highlights the tension in Modoc County over the coyote hunting contest, which is now the subject of discussion by the state's Fish and Game Commission as it weighs the option of banning wildlife killing contests statewide.
Hopping, who spoke with ReWild on Tuesday, said he left his house Sunday afternoon at the end of the Coyote Derby to attempt to photograph dead coyotes collected by participants. In previous years coyotes shot during the Derby were deposited outside Adin Supply in a publicly viewable "coyote dump." By 2013 that dump had been moved behind a locked gate.
Hopping told us that his intention was to shoot photos of coyotes in the backs of pickup trucks outside Adin Supply. Seeing none, he returned to his truck, then noticed from across the road that "about 50 hunters in camo" were gathered by the store.
"I took a photo, decided I didn't like the way it was framed, and shot another," Hopping told ReWild. He said Gagnon asked what the photos were for, to which Hopping replied they'd be published on the Internet. Words were exchanged for a moment, says Hopping, at which point Gagnon allegedly shoved Hopping in the chest with both hands, sending him sprawling to the ground.
The altercation was witnessed by CDFW game warden Aaron Freitas, who made a statement to Modoc County sheriff's deputies and assisted Hopping in seeking medical attention.
Our phone calls to Gagnon at Adin Supply seeking his side of the altercation were not returned by press time, though the San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday that Gagnon alleged he'd "been provoked." A representative of the Modoc County Sheriff's office confirmed that an assault was reported and that the case is going to the local District Attorney for review, but would not confirm the names of either the alleged assailant or the victim.
Modoc County Sheriff Michael Poindexter is listed a sponsor of the 2014 Coyote Derby on a commemorative t-shirt provided to participants.
About 40 coyotes were killed by contest participants this year.
This isn't the first time critics of the coyote hunting contest have allegedly been the subject of pointed hostility by Derby organizers: During the 2013 Derby, writes Northern California reporter Allan Stellar, a Modoc County sheriff's deputy threatened his 13-year-old granddaughter with immediate arrest for trying to enter Adin Supply to buy a soda.
Opportunities for conflict between Coyote Derby organizers and their critics may be coming to and end. As we reported last week, the California Fish and Game Commission has agreed to consider banning wildlife-hunting contests in the state, which would put the Modoc Coyote Derby out of business, at least as a legal event.
And coyote advocates were quick to point to Hopping's assault as more reason to end such contests. "Killing wildlife en masse for fun and prizes is callous, disrespectful and violent," said Camilla Fox, director of Project Coyote. "That's the same behavior that Gagnon demonstrated in his violent assault against Roger Hopping. We need to stop perpetuating this culture of violence by starting with a statewide ban on wildlife killing contests."