Though the state of California recently outlawed predator-killing contests that offered prizes for participants, the controversial coyote-killing event that sparked the ban is set to take place again this weekend -- with just enough procedural changes to skirt the ban.
With help from the Adin Supply company, a general store in Adin, California, the Pit River Rod and Gun Club is sponsoring what supporters are calling a "Sportsmen's Summit and Coyote Management Hunt" Saturday and Sunday, February 7 and 8, in which participants are expected to fan out over the countryside of northeastern California and shoot as many coyotes as possible.
The California Fish and Game Commission in December voted to ban predator-hunting contests that award prizes for participants. The hunt's organizers say they'll be hewing to the letter of that law by not offering prizes. But one wildlife protection group isn't convinced.
Chatter on social media in January encouraged would-be participants to inquire about the hunt using the phrases "friendly gathering" or "right to assemble." That might bring to mind visions of a conservative-flavored protest of the new law banning predator-killing contests that offer prizes, but Adin Supply's owner Steve Gagnon told KCET that's not the intent of the event.
"We're holding the event this year because we think there's still a need to reduce the number of coyotes," Gagnon said Monday. "To tell you the truth, we'd been getting away from offering prizes anyway. A few years back we offered guns for contest winners. Last year, it was a jacket. We'd been scaling back the value of the prizes even before the Fish and Game Commission made their decision."
Gagnon adds that Adin Supply is no longer a formal co-sponsor of the event, in part due to public pressure. "Our staff was getting some pretty nasty phone calls over the issue," said Gagnon.
But a Bay Area-based animal welfare group isn't convinced by hunt promoters' claims that prizes won't be offered. In a letter to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a legal representative of the group Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) says that the group has heard that secret prizes may be awarded to those who kill the most coyotes this weekend.
"Publicly, the sponsors of the Coyote Drive and/or Sportsman's Summit represent that they have dispensed with their intent to award prizes to winners of the contest hunt," wrote ALDF litigation fellow Kelsey Eberley in the January 29 letter. "[B]ut ALDF has learned that contest sponsors have made private overtures that contradict these public statements. Indeed, according to ALDF's sources, contest sponsors intend to carry on the tradition of awarding cash prizes as inducements for participants to kill as many coyotes as possible."
ALDF is asking the Department of Fish and Wildlife to send an observer to the hunt in Adin to ensure the state ban on predator-killing contests is honored.
This may be an especially bad weekend to be a coyote in northeastern California: 15 miles down the road from Adin, in the Lassen County hamlet of Nubieber, the annual Big Valley Pheasant Shoot includes a free "coyote shoot" in its $100 entry fee.
Advocates of such events say that reducing coyote numbers is necessary to limit livestock losses and protect public safety. But as we've mentioned in past coverage of the Adin coyote hunt and similar events, there just doesn't seem to be good science backing up those claims. Random killings of coyotes encountered by chance may actually worsen the problem of coyotes taking livestock, as killings of alpha pack members can free less experienced members of that pack to breed.
"Killing contests are reckless wildlife management," wrote ALDF's Jennifer Molidor in a post on the group's blog Tuesday. "Those who defend the killing sprees by pointing to an increase in coyote populations refuse to acknowledge science which has conclusively shown that killing animals haphazardly like this increases their populations and worsens any problem they may create for livestock."
"These contests are creating the problem they pretend to be controlling, and are ineffective at best, savage at worst: glorifying killing for the sake of killing," Molidor added.
We'll report on the results of the hunt as they become available.