California Bans Wildlife-Killing Contests
California on Wednesday banned coyote-killing contests as well as the shooting of other wildlife for cash prizes.
“Awarding prizes for wildlife-killing contests is both unethical and inconsistent with our current understanding of natural systems,” Michael Sutton, president of the California Fish and Game Commission, said Wednesday at a meeting in Van Nuys, California. “Such contests are an anachronism and have no place in modern wildlife management.”
Anachronism or not, killing coyotes and other nongame wildlife for fun and money has long been a feature of rural California life. Each month, a coyote hunt is held in the town of Taft in the state’s Central Valley, according to a Fish and Game Commission staff report. And for the past eight years, a two-day contest in Modoc County in California’s far north has attracted some 200 coyote hunters.
“Other species of nongame mammals are reportedly objects of hunting contests, such as squirrels and nongame furbearers, including raccoon, gray fox, (red fox, kit fox, pine marten, fisher, mink, river otter, beaver, badger, and muskrat),” wrote the commission staff.
The issue elicited passion on both sides of the gun barrel, with the vast majority of comments sent to the commission in support of a ban on wildlife-killing contests.
“Wildlife contests perpetuate a culture of violence and send the message to children that life has little value and that an entire species of animals is disposable,” wrote Louis Gauci in a Sept. 21 letter to the commission.
“Wolves, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and etc. are not commodities for people to make money,” wrote Kimberly Blaquera in a Sept. 15 letter. “They are our heritage.”
The California Farm Bureau Federation expressed concern that the ban would prevent growers from killing animals that damage crops. “There is a significant possibility that farmers would no longer be able to promote shooting ground squirrels as a means of controlling these pests,” wrote Noelle Cremers of the farm bureau in an October letter.
Rancher Keli Hendricks rejected that idea. “As a rancher, I find it insulting when these contests are justified by claiming they help protect livestock,” wrote Hendricks in a Nov. 5 letter to the commission. “Most ranchers I know are fully capable of protecting their livestock without ‘help’ from killing contests.”
The unanswered question is whether taking away the monetary lure of killing coyotes and other wildlife will result in fewer animal deaths.
The commission’s staff seemed doubtful. “The likelihood of winning a prize appears to be secondary to the principal activity of the hunt itself,” the staff wrote in their report. “Little change in the number of hunters...is expected.”