Wildlife-killing contests are considered by participants to be a game, with rules that count the size, weight and volume of animals killed for rewards and prizes under the guise of “pest” control, without any consideration for the ecological value of targeted animals.
Nationally, the most popular objects of such contests are coyotes, wolves, prairie dogs and pigeons. Some contests even have a “youth” division for children.
However, wildlife biologists see such events as ecologically reckless, particularly in the state of California, where Gov. Jerry Brown recently approved a law that requires the Fish & Game Commission to use science and “ecosystem-based management” to provide stewardship of the state’s wildlife.
Late last year, Brown approved a ban on lead bullets in order to protect the state’s endangered condors.
Nonetheless, 20,000 petition signatures didn’t stop the annual Modoc County coyote-killing contest on Feb. 8 and 9, with approximately 40 animals shot and delivered to the contest sponsors, Pit River Rod and Gun Club and Adin Supply Outfitters.
But animosity between wildlife conservationists and sport hunters spilled over, which resulted in a scuffle that ended with the owner of Adin Supply Outfitters Steve Gagnon arrested temporarily for a shoving assault on 73-year-old Roger Hopping, who was hospitalized for a compression fracture in his lumbar spine.
Formal charges against Gagnon are pending by the Modoc County prosecutor, but conservationists aren’t optimistic, because county Sheriff Mike Poindexter appears on the Coyote Drive 2014 T-shirt as a sponsor, according to News Review report.
Still, the friction between hunters and conservationists hasn’t gone unnoticed by county officials.
“I’ve been concerned about these killing contests for some time,” said California Fish & Wildlife Commission President Michael Sutton. “They seem inconsistent both with ethical standards of hunting and our current understanding of the important role predators play in ecosystems.”
Culling so-called nuisance animals like coyotes removes natural predators that keep down rodent populations and they are rarely a threat to people or livestock. It is also counterproductive, because coyotes with diminished populations simply breed more often and have more pups in their litter.
Opponents of wildlife-killing contests see little sport or value in exterminating innocent animals when nonlethal methods are available to contain problems, but participating hunters view the events as fun, amusing entertainment, sometimes for the whole family.
Contest sponsors don’t care about the ecological value of the animals that are slaughtered; they care about their profit. Most entrance fees average $25 per pair.
Websites have sprung up for years sponsored by “sport” and predator hunters that provide forums for gloating about their activities.
There’s good news in the end for conservationists, but not so much for habitual hunters—the commission voted earlier this month unanimously to consider a ban on wildlife-killing contests and it will make a decision April 16.
Spokeswoman for Project Coyote, Camilla Fox, said banning contests would be a good start.
“We want to push the committee to take on bag and possession limits of nongame and fur-bearing predator species that currently have an open-ended, unlimited season,” said Fox.
Project Coyote activists are asking for people to sign their petition.