Coyote hunting is popular in many places, especially in rural areas where the predators pose a threat to livestock and pets. Utah’s Predator Control Program offers hunters a $50 bounty for each properly documented coyote kill, and some groups have even organized coyote hunting “contests” that award prizes to the most successful hunters. California, however, has just become the first state to ban these competitions altogether.
The California Fish and Game Commission initially proposed a law that would make it illegal to offer a reward for hunting predators, effectively eliminating bounties and coyote hunting contests, in April. According to the Associated Press, the commission voted yesterday to officially ban coyote hunts that offer prizes.
Animal rights group Project Coyote had previously called on hunters and the Fish and Game Commission to halt hunting competitions, claiming that the hunts were detrimental to the predator population and the contests were not sporting.
Many, however, paint a different picture of coyote hunting. In California towns like Bakersfield, some residents say that the coyote population is out of control.
“Here in Bakersfield, my wife recently had the unnerving experience of being stalked by a pack of coyotes hell-bent on attacking the family dogs, or possibly herself,” outdoors columnist Steve Merlo wrote in The Bakersfield Californian. “The wild animals came close—within 35 feet—so that now, she never walks our pets without some form of firearm protection.”
Merlo blamed the upswell in coyote numbers on a lack of hunting and proper management techniques near urban areas, where the coyotes have moved into. Although officials have no concrete number on exactly how many coyotes live in the state, experts say the species is not vulnerable. If anything, the coyote population is growing.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t receive calls concerning nuisance coyotes,” said biologist Kevin Brennan in a 2011 press release from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Yet the pressure from advocacy groups was intense. After a controversial coyote hunt in the town of Adin earlier this year, state officials recieved more than 13,000 emails and letters calling for a stop to the coyote hunting contests. Activists claim that there is also little evidence that the contests decrease the number of predator attacks on livestock, which causes millions of dollars in damages to California ranchers every year.
Rancher and hunter Buck Parks, who is also President of Adin’s River Rod and Gun Club, said that the goal behind the contests is not just the weekend hunt, it is about getting hunters interested in coyotes.
“We’re focused on trying to encourage folks to get out and help manage these predators by hunting them,” he told the AP.
Coyotes are considered a non-game animal in California and can be hunted year-round. There is currently no bag limit on how many coyotes you can harvest, and night hunting is legal in many locations.
Image courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service