'Coyote Whacking' Legal in Wyoming, Lawmakers Don't Seem To Care
It’s stunning to animal rights activists and others that it is perfectly legal in Wyoming to chase coyotes down on snowmobiles until they’re exhausted and defenseless, then run over them several times. It’s more eye-opening still that the people who consider this activity a “sport” scoop up the lifeless coyotes by their tails, then finish them off with a celebratory “whop-whop-whop” against the sode of the snowmobile. And then, in a final act as confounding to activists as the physical brutality that preceded it, they post smiling videos of their coyote kill on social media sites.
Wyoming lawmakers had a chance late last month to abolish the practice that has been called brutal and inhumane, but let it pass without so much as a reading a Jackson state representative’s bill or scheduling debate. Rep. Mike Yin introduced a bill on Jan. 29 to make the sport illegal in Wyoming, but it was such a non-starter tht it didn’t get the same-day committee assignment needed for it to move forward.
Jackson Hole wildlife activist Lisa Robertson isn’t planning to give up on the coyotes, which have absolutely no legal protections in Wyoming, or on persuading lawmakers to see ” ‘Yote Whackin’, ” as the sport is called, as barbaric and unconscionable, then vote accordingly to make it a felonious act.
Robertson is not alone in her condemnation of the sport. Nearly 275,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org asking elected officials to criminalize coyote whacking in Wyoming and neighboring Montana, where it also takes place.
Petition organizer Anja Heister of Missoula, Montana, told supporters last week that “we are not done yet,” and promised she would continue efforts to convince Wyoming lawmakers to make coyote whacking a crime.
The local news site Sweetwaternow.com endorsed this year’s doomed legislation, writing in an editorial that “the scene is so horrific, it is hard to grasp the reality that any human being could do such a thing” and that “the world is witnessing not only this unconscionable behavior, but is also seeing the lack of fair chase hunting — what any ethical hunter or sportsperson would do to feed their family.”
Ying, the Teton County Democrat who drafted a bill to outlaw coyote whacking, and fellow Democratic Sen. Mike Gierau, its co-sponsor in the Senate, were the only politicians “gutsy enough to take it on,” Robertson said, adding they’re “the type of politicians we need.”
“You always think the right thing is going to be done and these really critical bills are going to make it through with ease, but it is Wyoming, and that’s not always the case,” Robertson told the Jackson Hole Press and Guide. “We are grateful that Mike Yin was gutsy enough to take it on. These are the type of legislators we need.”
Videos of the stunts posted on YouTube “offer brutal glimpses at reality, and they speak not only truth on the ground but to the fact such behavior is condoned by political and social leaders in Wyoming, who let them happen without comment,” one person wrote on the Change.org site.
* Viewer discretion advised. The video found here is graphic and may offend some readers. *
Coyotes are predators under Wyoming law, and it’s legal for unlicensed hunters to hunt them year-round, along with raccoons, red fox, porcupines and skunks. Hunters still have to abide by other laws, such as fulfilling hunter safety requirements, and they cannot hunt from the road or use artificial light.
But other than that, it’s open season on coyotes and other predators.
Coyote Killing Contests Are Common
Predator killing contests aren’t particularly uncommon, and they’re legal everywhere in the U.S. except California. Most involve guns and coyotes, which some wildlife officials classify as varmints. In those contests, hunters fan out the countryside with rifles equipped with telescopic sights. Hunters pick off as many coyotes as they can.
The coyotes are flushed out by dogs or lured with calls that mimic a wounded animal. They stand little chance of survival.
In many cases, the hunters are shooting for money or prizes like AR-15 rifles and outdoor paraphernalia, and some contests even have children’s divisions, according to an account in Yale Environment 360, published at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
Michael Sutton, a former president of the California Fish and Game Commission, which writes hunting regulations, told Yale Environment 360’s Ted Williams that “awarding prizes for wildlife killing contests is both unethical and inconsistent with our understanding of natural systems” and that “such contests are an anachronism and have no place in modern wildlife management.”
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But a group called Coyote Contests claims predator and varmint hunting are “under attack by those who have no idea of the repercussions to farmers, ranchers and wildlife if we were to stop keeping numbers in check.”
Ethics Are Changing With Time
The Wyoming effort stalled before it ever got started, but in other areas, more progressive hunting laws and other developments signal the public is souring on the predator killing contests and view them more as the wanton killing of wildlife than measures to protect livestock and pets.
Williams wrotefor Yale Environment 360 that “not all or even most traditional hunters” support the contests.
California banned coyote killing contests in 2014. Four years later, Vermont became the second state to do so, and that was after a social media outcry led to the cancellation of the Boonie Club Crow Shoot. In Oregon, where the state’s large JMK Coyote Hunting Contest was shuttered by a 2014 lawsuit, activists are gathering signatures on state and national petitions to end the killing contests. From New Mexico and Nevada in the Southwest to New Jersey and New York, activists and lawmakers are taking a fresh look at how they view coyote killing contests.
The onging debate has exposed some unusual schisms, though.
For example, some of the member chapters of the wildlife habitat and hunters’ advocacy group Pheasants Forever sponsor coyote killing contests, but its national magazine ran a piece entitled “Like Pheasants? Thank a Coyote.” The piece quoted wildlife biologists who said coyotes are opportunists that prefer small rodents, pet food and what they find in an unsecured garbage can to hard-to-catch pheasants.
The piece was written by Rich Patterson, an avid pheasant hunter. As a younger hunter, he wrote, he “would have never passed up a chance to ‘help’ pheasants by shooting any coyote that came into range.”
“No longer. Instead of sending a pheasant load his way I merely shout, ‘Thanks fella!’ “
Killing The Wrong Coyote
Some experts say coyote kills are ineffective from a population management perspective and don’t work as intendend.
Biologist Robert Crabtree, whose study on coyotes in central Washington and Yellowstone National Park is considered the seminal work in his field, says the random killing of coyotes can have opposite the intended effect.
He estimates that 70 percent of coyotes would have to be wiped out for preventative control programs to have much dent, and that coyote pup survival rates are significantly higher when adults are removed from the population in big numbers. With fewer adults to feed the young, the opportunistic coyote feeds on rabbits and rodents and, as it matures, moves on to livestock, antelope and deer.
And some ranchers are upset that the wrong coyotes will be killed. At least some are beneficial.
Carter Niemeyer, who is retired from the USDA’s Wildlife Services, told Williams and Yale Environment 360 that two types of control were practiced from about 1975 to 2000: in a case where a couple of coyotes were killing sheep, the coyotes were removed under “corrective” control.
But in “preventative” control, it’s “gunships in the air every flyable day to shoot any coyote because it might eat a sheep sometoday,” he said.
Niemeyer gave a talk last year on predator killing contests to a group called Backcountry Hunters and Anglers that supports the ethics of fair chase — the idea that hunters and their prey each have a fair chance.
“They were the younger generation,” Niemeyer told Taylor. “They looked like Marines. Angry, old white men just weren’t there. They were extremely receptive. One story I told them is the time in Montana we sent in a helicopter and randomly shot a bunch of coyotes.
“The rancher called me a couple days later and said: ‘Carter, do coyotes revenge kill? We haven’t had trouble with coyotes all winter. We saw your helicopter the other morning and heard lots of shooting. Now we’ve got coyotes killing sheep. What the hell’s going on?’
“When you have coyotes eating rodents and rabbits around sheep, that’s desirable. Random shooting — ‘preventive control’ — creates chaos, removing the good coyotes. So other coyotes immediately come in to fill the void, and some may be undesirables. Same with bears and mountain lions.”
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