The California Fish and Game Commission met last Wednesday in Ventura County and voted 3-2 to propose an end to predator hunting competitions. According to KCET, the proposed law would make it illegal to offer a reward for hunting predators, such as coyotes, effectively eliminating bounties and predator hunting contests.
“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, head of the animal advocacy group Project Coyote. “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.”
Coyote and predator hunts in California became a controversial topic after this year’s Coyote Drive hunt near the small town of Adin. The town holds the coyote hunting derby every Feburary, which hunters say helps to keep the local population of coyotes down. Sponsored by a local gun store and outfitter, the contest awards prizes to the sportsmen who bring in the largest or most coyotes. Animal rights advocates widely criticized the event after two hunters mistakenly shot and injured a game warden this year, petitioning for the state to outlaw all predator hunting competitions.
Conservationists are split on whether culling coyotes is an effective method of population control. Some animal rights groups, like Project Coyote, say that shooting large numbers of coyotes actually raises the population because it removes the pack leaders and opens up breeding to other members of the pack. Some biologists disagree, saying that the pressure from hunting and bounties can lead to lower populations.
Buck Parks, who works at Adin’s River Rod and Gun Club, says that the contest is simply a good way for hunters to spend some time outdoors.
“Coyote numbers are high here and predator hunting is legal,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re just trying to re-expose people to the outdoors. Coyotes are a pretty smart, adaptable predator.”
Wildlife agencies in the states like Utah hope that hunters will play a part in reducing coyote numbers, benefiting other species like mule deer. Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources started its Predator Control Program in 2012, which offers hunters and trappers an incentive of $50 for every coyote they harvest.
California’s proposed ban will now go into a public comment period before the Commission makes a final decision in August.