Maine’s Obsession With Killing Coyotes

Comments from Executive Director Robert Fisk, Jr. at a recent Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife hearing in support of coyote petitions submitted by long time Maine wildlife advocate John Glowa

 

 

 

 

                  Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife 

                    Chapter 16 - Hunting (predator hunting contests)

                                  Rule-making - October 16, 2020

                            Comments: Robert Fisk, Jr., Falmouth  

 

As executive director and lobbyist for Maine Friends of Animals for over 20 years as well as a former legislator, I have witnessed the long legislative history of coyote management in Maine. Hopefully my reflection on this history will be helpful as you consider the coyote petitions currently before you. 

Others will comment on the issues of wintering habitat for deer and on the voluminous studies confirming coyote management programs have not worked, are not working, and will not work. And some will parse the language of the petitions, but it is the bigger picture that I think needs to be addressed. 

From 1999 through 2002, Maine Friends of Animals (MFOA) joined with northern Maine wildlife activists in an intense two-year campaign on legislation to end the gruesome activity of coyote snaring. However due to the fact that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W), its legislative oversight committee, and the hunting and trapping lobby were one in the same politically, ideologically, financially and socially connected, the legislation died in committee. For the next ten years, the same hunting and trapping groups continued to sponsor bills on various forms of coyote killing while time after time evidence continued to show none of those ideas worked. Today we have the same amount of coyotes as we did 30 years ago. 

But the bills kept coming each legislature and then in 2011, SAM rolled out its integrated Coyote Control Plan, with input from MDIF&W, that included various hunting methods such as foothold traps, baiting, bounties, calling, hounds, or coyote-specific hunts known as coyote killing contests. Nothing was left to chance. 

I spoke at the hearing against that legislation; my testimony was simply presenting a dozen newspaper articles condemning coyote management programs as a waste of taxpayer dollars and the MDIF&W time and resources. Many of the articles were from wildlife biologists - including in the MDIF&W - citing department angst in historically wanting nothing to do with the programs. I pointed to the newspaper articles as evidence that pursuing such legislation continues to be pointless, as I then noted that all the articles were ten or more years old from the coyote snaring campaign! The point is we have been here before. Why do we keep doing this? 

Nevertheless, between the Department and the Aroostook County Conservation Association, over 6,000 coyotes were killed. While locals in wintering habitats noted the deer situation as “improved some”, most contribute grueling winters, lack of cover and habitat, and lack of food as more likely the reasons for fluctuations in deer populations. Moreover, deer populations are flourishing in New Hampshire and Vermont and other areas in Maine. 

Still after that, here we are: ten years later and the same hollow arguments are put forth to allow these practices to continue and now voiced against these petitions. Thirty years later, the remaining arguments have now boiled down to largely anecdotal evidence of improvement in wintering habitats and “doing something is better than nothing.” Hence, coyotes in Maine can be killed any time, anywhere, any season, by any means, no matter how useless and cruel it is. 

So what are we left with? A wildlife management tool that does not work and a legislative committee that kills any bills to reform these historically proven wildlife management mistakes. And a private citizen left to gather signatures and file petitions for perhaps just some rule-making changes. Sadly, it has come to that. MFOA supports both coyote petitions submitted by Mr. Glowa and would like to comment further on the Chapter 16 - Hunting (predator hunting contests). 

Coyote killing contests in Maine are under the guise of conservation and wildlife management. So again, it is important for the public and legislators to understand that our own state and MDIF&W, as well as USF&W biologists, understand that over 100 years of war on the coyotes have only resulted in expanded coyote populations. Repeat: their predicate for killing contests is population control, but no science-based wildlife management proposal supports that assertion. 

As organized events, they promote the arbitrary killing that many people find abhorrent. High powered weapons rip apart the animals. Contests produce piles of dead animals; a few used for fur, but most are carcasses just thrown away once they are weighed. These contests for money and/or firearms are fundamentally inhumane and increasingly viewed as pointless, sadistic and wasteful with no sound reason to exist. 

A coyote is 98.6% genetically the same as your pet dog. No one would do to a dog what we do to coyotes without a resultant aggravated animal cruelty felony charge. Are we so removed that we cannot associate the same terror, suffering and pain for both? What makes it so egregious is its needless, wanton killing.

Killing contests harm our state’s reputation, and violate conservation hunting ethics. They are designed to reward people for indiscriminately killing as many animals as they can - a concept that conflicts with hunting values and in opposition to Maine’s long tradition of sustenance hunting. Blood sports like this are damaging to the reputation of responsible and ethical hunters. 

As Lisa Jennings, Executive Director of Animal Protection New Mexico explained it: “Killing contests offend our community sense of fairness and common decency. The coyotes are randomly targeted, lured out of hiding with electronic and manual calling devices. Mass indiscriminate killing, in violation of fair chase ethics, sends a dangerous message to our children that life is cheap in New Mexico and that senseless indiscriminate killing is a cause of celebration.”

In 2019, New Mexico became the eighth state to pass legislation banning coyote killing contests; in five of those states (AZ, CO, CA, WA, MA), the legislation was propelled by the state wildlife agency. New Mexicans from all corners of the state and all walks of life including conservationists, hunters, gun owners, and even ranchers oppose killing contests. Public opposition to killing contests is not based on anti-gun or anti-hunting viewpoints. In a November 2012 petition against coyote killing contests, one-third of New Mexican society identified themselves as gun owners.

Banning coyote killing contests is a small component of the larger issue of coyote management, but it is the most egregious and its negative ramifications far outweigh any perceived benefit. 

Man cannot regulate coyotes. They are imminently resourceful. Native American cultures view them as powerful mythical figures, respected for their intelligence and mischievous nature. Simply killing them does not solve the problem; in fact, it has proven to be counterproductive as birth rates typically increase. They exist in deserts and in Chicago alleyways. So, why not try and understand this animal and learn how we can best co-habituate?

First, a stable coyote population is critical to a healthy ecosystem. We know they only filled the spot and habitat taken by wolves and big cats before humankind exterminated them. Let them do their job. They help control populations of rodents and rabbits, regulate smaller predators, eat animals who harbor ticks / Lyme disease, and cull sick animals. Coyotes are ecologically vital top carnivores in Eastern US biodiversity. They utilize a wide range of habitat from grasslands to deserts, forests, and recently, urban parks and neighborhoods. In all locations, they play a vital role in maintaining healthy ecosystems and species diversity. 

Stable, healthy coyote families are typically wary of humans. It’s the wandering, unhealthy, injured or starving animal that is likely to seek out unprotected pets/farm animals. Once the connection of humans with easy access to food is made, coyotes minimize and/or abandon their hunting territories. Irresponsible human behavior is most often the root cause of wildlife conflicts. Coyotes pay the price.

There are many simple ways we can eliminate or reduce coyote interactions. For more information, read Living in Harmony With Wildlife, The Misunderstood Coyote, written by Jayne Winters in the 2011 MFOA newsletter. It lists many ways in which one can prevent coyote interaction such as keeping cats indoors, walking dogs with a lease, not leaving out pet food, secure garbage cans, eliminate artificial water sources, clear brush, using motion lighting, walking trails with a whistle, etc. 

Coyote attacks are extremely rare. When conflicts arise, they are almost always associated with animals that have been fed by humans.  A coyote’s normal behavior is wary; it will try to identify you and usually runs off. If it appears aggressive, treat it like you would an aggressive dog: don’t turn your back or run, stand your ground, shout at it.

As we continue to expand into wildlife habitat and coyotes adapt to our increasing presence, encounters will naturally occur. It is up to us to reduce, if not eliminate, negative interactions by educating communities about humane techniques for co-existence, to foster understanding and appreciation of the role the coyote plays in healthy ecosystems.

These petitions should never have had to be submitted, but it tells you how broke and corrupt the process is when it gets to this point. The useless obsession to kill coyotes is a sad reminder that Maine’s long tradition of hunting is demeaned when it continues to allow blood sports like bear trapping, canned hunting “ranches” and coyote killing contests.

I strongly urge the Department to support the petition in making the suggested changes to Chapter 16 - Hunting (predator hunting contests).

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