California's Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to consider a ban on hunting contests such as this weekend's secretive coyote drive in Modoc County, with one Commissioner suggesting such contests are unethical.
The 4-0 vote launches a formal rule-making process, during which public comment will be solicited as the Commission considers a ban on such contests in California.
"This is obviously not about sport or fair-chase," said Camilla Fox, whose wildlife group Project Coyote proposed the ban to the Commission on Wednesday. "Wildlife killing contests are conducted for profit, entertainment, prizes and, simply, for the 'fun' of killing. No evidence exists showing that such indiscriminate killing contests control problem animals or serve any beneficial management function."
Fish and Game Commission President Michael Sutton spoke in favor of the motion before the vote. "I've been concerned about these killing contests for some time," said Sutton. They seem inconsistent both with ethical standards of hunting and our current understanding of the important role predators play in ecosystems."
Though the focus of the discussion was on coyotes, given the looming Modoc County contest, a broad ban on wildlife hunting contests would conceivably bar events where other species are the targets as well.
Advocates contend that contests such as Modoc County's or the others we described last month are important to keep predator populations under control.
But research into the dynamics of coyote reproduction and lifestyles over the last several decades undermines such claims. Though there will likely always be a role for direct culls in management of problem coyotes, the science indicates that more indiscriminate hunting serves only to disrupt coyote family groups in which only the "alpha" adults breed. Killing one or both of the alphas in a mid-sized family group may mean two or three times as many pairs of coyotes will be actively breeding shortly thereafter.
"Killing random predators is about as effective at protecting livestock as bailing harder is at saving a sinking boat," said Sonoma County rancher Keli Hendricks, who testified in support of a ban before the Commission. "It might help for a short time, but the only real solution is to fix the hole in the boat. The way to fix that hole is to implement one or more of the many non-lethal livestock protection methods available to ranchers today."
The possibility of banning wildlife hunting contests will now be placed on the agenda for a Fish and Game Commission meeting, at which public comment will be solicited. That won't happen before Modoc County's coyote drive this weekend, but it will almost certainly happen before next year's.