The campaign to end wildlife killing contests like the annual "Coyote Derby" in Adin, California got a boost this week, as the California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-2 to propose a rule that would ban offering prizes for killing predatory mammals in California.
The vote, held Wednesday at the Commission's meeting in Ventura County, means that the Commission will proceed with a public notice and comment period before making a decision on the ban in August. So far, according to the wildlife protection group Project Coyote, public comment has run overwhelmingly in support of a ban. Of more than 13,000 public comments on the proposed ban, only 10 have advocated to keep contests like the Coyote Derby legal.
"The bottom line is, these killing contests don't protect livestock. The only thing they do is perpetuate an endless war on wildlife in which many animals, both wild and domestic, needlessly lose their lives," said Sonoma County cattle rancher Keli Hendricks in testimony before the Commission Wednesday.
Hendricks serves on the Advisory Board of Project Coyote, which petitioned the Commission to consider such a ban. If the ban is enacted through the Commission's rulemaking process, it would become illegal for anyone to offer money or other rewards as prizes in any organized event focusing on killing of mammalian predators such as coyotes.
That would likely drive events such as the Adin coyote-killing contest out of business, as well as more informal events in which participants pay entrance fees that are then given to the two or three hunters who kill the most coyotes.
Though advocates of the contests claim that they help keep predator populations in check, many scientists disagree, saying that indiscriminate hunting of coyotes in particular can actually create a larger coyote population that's more likely to harm sheep, calves and chickens.
A letter addressed to the Commission and signed by 35 wildlife scientists spells out just how unregulated hunting can complicate predator-rancher problems:
When not killed (exploited), [coyotes] self-regulate their populations by means of dominant individuals defending non-overlapping territories. This structure can be disrupted by killing as little as one individual, which can then result in dispersal of remaining individuals that may seek novel prey items including livestock.
The letter, which was delivered to the Commission by Project Coyote founder Camilla Fox, also described the ecological services predators provide just by making a living in the California landscape including rodent control and reduction of overpopulation by deer.
Coyotes also help induce landscape-level changes such as those described in this video, which discusses how the reintroduction of a closely related mammalian predator changed Yellowstone National Park for the better:
Project Coyote contends that ending the contests will make the state safer for human beings, as well, citing both this year's alleged assault of Adin resident Roger Hopping by Coyote Derby organizer Steve Gagnon, and the apparently accidental shooting of state game warden Bob Pera by two participants in an organized coyote killing contest in El Dorado County in February.
"Most people are shocked to learn that it is legal to kill coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and other wildlife as part of a tournament for prizes and 'recreational fun'," said Camilla Fox. "They're even more shocked to learn that thousands of such contests take place each year in the U.S. killing tens of thousands of wild animals. This vote brings us one step closer to reforming how predators are managed in this state."