The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has voted to ban hunting contests for coyotes and other mammals on public lands in the state. This new ban however does not prohibit these contests on private land and doesn’t restrict hunters and ranchers from killing predatory animals like coyotes. Collette Adkins is the carnivore conservation program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. She joins us to share the impact of this decision and the role coyotes play in Oregon environments.
Note: This transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted on Friday to ban hunting contests for coyotes and other unprotected mammals on public lands in the state. These are contests where people compete to see who can kill more coyotes. Nobody on the commission voted against this change. Collette Adkins is the carnivore conservation program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which was in support of this change. She joins us now. Welcome to Think Out Loud.
Collette Adkins: Thanks for having me.
Miller: Can you explain what a coyote killing contest is?
Adkins: Well, Oregon has had several of these in recent years. They are killing contests where hunters are awarded prizes like money or even guns for the most coyotes killed, the biggest, even the smallest. They really have been controversial because they can be bloody and quite gruesome events. This is a situation where you’ve got hunters showing up with truckloads of carcasses to be counted and weighed. And there’s been really awful undercover investigations showing hunters laughing and joking about cruel gut shots and killing pups. It really is giving hunters a bad name.
Miller: How is this different from just plain old hunting that’s not a contest?
Adkins: That contest element is a big part of it. There isn’t a legitimate management purpose for these hunts. They’re driven by bragging rights, by prizes. One thing that’s been really helpful for getting these banned in Oregon and in other countries in the US is that hunters themselves are speaking out against them because they do give hunters a bad name, because they don’t have a conservation purpose. It’s really just a blood sport.
Miller: What kinds of tactics do contestants use to attract or kill the animals?
Adkins: There’s lots of high tech equipment used, like night vision goggles, high powered rifles, that really make the coyotes useless for sale afterwards, their pelts being just riddled with bullets. They’ll play the sounds of coyote puppies to attract their mothers to be shot. And this is another reason why they’ve been so controversial, because it does lack that element of fair chase that good hunting is grounded in.
Miller: How many coyotes might be killed in these contests? And I’m wondering how common they are?
Adkins: In Oregon we know of just about five over the last couple of years of these contests. So I think they were on their way out already because they really are so objectionable. But hundreds of coyotes can be brought into these events. There’s no limits on the number of coyotes that a hunter can kill.
Miller: The release by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that the commission doesn’t have the regulatory authority to prohibit contests in all situations. What exactly has been prohibited, and what is still allowed?
Adkins: They’ll propose rules, and we’ll see exactly what the commission does in terms of prohibiting these contests. But what we know for sure is that individual livestock operators, for example, retain the ability to kill a coyote that’s attacking their livestock. That’s not touched at all by these rules.
Miller: And that’s not at all a contest.
Adkins: No, it sure isn’t. What we’re getting at here are these incentivized killing contests.
Miller: Do I understand correctly, when I’ve read that this is on public lands, does that mean that an incentivized contest could still happen on private land?
Adkins: I hope not. I think the devil’s gonna be in the details there. We’re gonna have to see what exact rule language is put forward.
Miller: Supporters of these contests, I understand, say that they were a form of population control for coyotes who otherwise might kill livestock. That argument obviously was not persuasive to the members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Nobody voted against, it was 5 to 0, with one abstention. But what do you see as the population effects of these contests?
Adkins: Well, the science is clear on that. Coyote killing does not reduce coyote populations in the long term. When you think about it, people have been trying to exterminate coyotes since the early 1800s. Predator extermination programs were effective for species like gray wolves and grizzly bears, for example, that have very different biology. But the way coyotes have evolved is that they respond to exploitation by having larger litters, multiple litters in a season. They respond to exploitation by growing their populations. So there’s really no justification in terms of trying to help livestock operators, which as we said, already have the ability to control coyotes and other predators that are causing harm for their livestock.
Plus there’s tons of non lethal methods that can be used to prevent conflicts, like good animal husbandry. A lot of times livestock operators that have problems with predators, they leave out carcasses that attract carnivores. They have sick and injured and other weak livestock that also are easy kills for predators. So really some just common sense, good management of livestock can do a lot to prevent these types of conflicts with predators.
Miller: What role do coyotes play within the ecosystem?
Adkins: They play a vital role in our healthy ecosystems. They perform free ecological services for us, and mostly they feed on rodents. And we know that mice and rats are transmitters of disease, they can damage agricultural crops.
But even beyond these ecological services that they provide, I know I just enjoy having coyotes on the landscape. They’re a native, beautiful carnivore. And I think they make the world a more beautiful, diverse, and wild place to live.
Miller: We’ve talked so far exclusively about coyotes, but the vote five days ago is also going to lead to rules that ban the competitive killing of other unprotected mammals. My understanding from the release is that does not include bears, cougars, or wolves. But it didn’t say what is included. Are there currently or have there been recently competitive sports of killing other unprotected mammals?
Adkins: I don’t know about Oregon, specifically. There have been contests in other states targeting squirrels, for example, raccoons. But really, coyotes are the most common target of these types of wildlife killing contests. And Oregon now will be the ninth state to have enacted bans on these gruesome events.
Miller: We were talking earlier about the scientific or conservation based arguments against these competitions. But I’m curious what you see as the moral dimensions here?
Adkins: Oh, for sure. I’m really proud of Oregon for banning these contests. I think it does say something about changing values of hunters, of society more broadly, that ethics should play a role in wildlife management, that suffering matters, and that we can do better in the way we treat animals and wildlife specifically. That even hunters should speak up when there are inhumane aspects. And using these unfair sporting techniques, like thermal vision and night vision, it really does lead to a situation where it’s different than a hunter who really has to work for his or her kill.
Miller: Collette Adkins, thanks so much for joining us.
Adkins: Thanks so much for having me. Have a nice day.
Miller: Collette Adkins is the carnivore conservation program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. They were one of a number of groups that advocated successfully for a change. Recently, there was a 5 to 0 vote by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to ban hunting competitions for coyotes and other unprotected mammals on public lands in the state.
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