The Bloody Business of Coyote Killing Contests
My dog Eve is so closely related to coyotes that she could—in theory—have hybrid puppies. Your family dog could, too. But despite their close relation to our companion dogs, coyotes are considered pests by ranchers and most wildlife management agencies, resulting in few restrictions on hunting and killing them. Villainized by cultural myths and exaggerations, coyotes are mercilessly slaughtered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at taxpayer expense to assuage those fearful of their presence. In addition, many states permit particularly loathsome events known as coyote killing “contests” where prizes are awarded to those who kill the most coyotes. The Animal Legal Defense Fund works to protect coyotes, recognizing their extraordinary intelligence and essential role as members of healthy ecosystems. Right now we are rallying the public to contact the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to put the brakes on coyote killing contests set to take place on public lands in Wyoming.
These contests, slated to take place partly on federal land managed by the BLM, do not have the requisite permits, nor have organizers applied for them. The “Wyoming Coyote Classic,” is scheduled for Saturday, January 7. “Wyoming Best of the Best” is planned for Saturday, February 4. Federal regulations require that certain commercial and competitive events held on BLM lands have a “special recreation permit” in order to lawfully take place. Both contests require these permits. According to BLM’s own regulations, the purpose of requiring special recreation permits is to manage visitor use, protect natural and cultural resources, minimize recreational use conflicts and provide for the health and safety of visitors. All of those concerns are at play with any killing contest, and with enough pressure on BLM to enforce their own regulations, these contests will not move forward.
Several months ago, the Animal Legal Defense Fund stopped a Kansas-based coyote killing contest with a creative legal strategy filed on behalf of Western Plains Animal Refuge. While coyote hunts are subject to very few laws, Kansas law does criminalize gambling. Through a lawsuit alleging the contests—which charge entry fees and award prizes—constitute gambling, we shut the contest down.
In these brutal mass killings, organized as “contests,” participants compete to shoot as many coyotes as they can. Males, females with pups, and even the pups themselves are typically fair game in this blood sport. Money or other prizes are awarded to hunters based on greatest number of animals killed, largest individual killed, etc. Hundreds of animals may be killed and many others wounded. There’s no cap on how many coyotes the hunters can kill. These killing contests encourage the killing of sentient beings as nothing more than blood sport.
Setting aside the ethics of these brutal “contests,” the fact remains that these hunts are not effective at “population management,” the excuse often used for permitting them. Scientific studies show that the haphazard slaughter of coyotes actually increases coyote populations, and that when packs are splintered, many more coyotes breed, thus increasing the number of pups dramatically. Furthermore, coyotes are a “keystone species,” which means their presence or absence impacts the entire ecosystem they belong to. Killing contests are ethically inconsistent with the proper management of wildlife. Killing contests don’t come from a love of the outdoors, a respect for nature or wildlife management. These contests are simply blood sport.
On top of animal and ecosystem protection concerns, these contests pose a serious threat to public safety, especially when hunts take place on public land. Visitors not aware of or not participating in the contest, like skiers, hikers, wildlife watchers and photographers, will be present during the killing. Killing contests frequently have no age restrictions and allow contestants to enter without prior firearm experience. Clearly there is an increased risk that participants will act carelessly, possibly injuring other recreational users or even killing visiting dogs on public lands.
Now more than ever, it’s imperative that humans learn to peacefully coexist with wildlife and respect the essential role that apex predators, like coyotes, play in maintaining healthy ecosystems. As a taxpayer, it’s your land that these hunts take place on, and your voice matters. Each year dozens of these contests are held, and right now we have the chance to stop at least two of them. Please visit www.aldf.org/coyotes to take action and learn how you can help protect coyotes.