Coyote Hunting: Who's to Blame?

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FALLON, NV - A coyote hunting tournament in Fallon this past weekend has animal rights activists looking for state intervention.

Trish Swain spearheads an animal welfare group called Trail Safe. She says coyote hunting “seems kind of gruesome, you see piles of these dead bodies, just heaps of them.”

In Nevada, hunters can kill as many coyotes as they want, with any method they choose whether it’s poisoning, trapping, or shooting. Only trappers need to have a trapping permit. Other than that, it’s all fair game.

“It’s open season on coyotes year round and that's legal,” says Swain.

One problem opponents have is they say coyote hunting is indiscriminate. The Nevada Department of Wildlife was quoted as saying some people who hunt by night often shoot at an animal with eyes, assuming it may be a coyote—but it’s not always one.

Opponents also say the coyote killings affects the natural order of things.

“What you're going to have is a run of rodents, rabbits, and gopher holes.”

Those involved with the coyote tournament say animals rights activists are blowing this out of proportion. They say there are thousands of tournaments like this in the U.S. every year and that coyotes are overpopulated.

“They're the worst predator in the U.S. as far as I’m concerned,” says life-long rancher Sean Erb.

“What they do to livestock, horses, sheep.”

“By the time we turned around they were eating the calf as it was being born,” recalls Nona McFarlane, who says she’s had her share of run-ins with coyotes.

Ranchers say losing cattle can cost thousands of dollars, a devastating hit during an already hard time for them.

Erb and other ranchers feel people may be pointing the finger at ranchers without understanding the entire scope of the issue. “If the animals rights guys have such a big problem why are they picking on us? The federal government flies this thing monthly and kills [the coyotes] by the hundreds. They just shot Lovelock a week ago.”

In 2008, USDA Wildlife Services killed nearly 100,000 coyotes.

Camilla Fox is Founding Director of the national non-profit organization Project Coyote, wildlife consultant with the Animal Welfare Institute, and author of the book “Coyotes in Our Midst”. She has spent years on the specific issue of coyote hunting and estimates 400,000 coyotes are killed every year in the U.S. alone.

"We know from history that randomly killing coyotes to either reduce regional coyote populations or reduce conflicts with livestock is ineffective, says Fox."

Project Coyote launched a program to deter coyotes in Marin County, giving ranchers funds for non-lethal alternatives. So far they say fewer livestock have been lost. Animal welfare groups say at the very least, they want state regulations.

“The Department of Wildlife will say they have no control over this kind of activity. I think citizens like myself would feel a lot better if there was some sort of control. I guess they're the logical place to start,” says Swain.

Ranchers say they'd abide by any state-imposed controls, though they wouldn't necessarily vote for them.

Some web sites on the topic of coyote and predator controls, from both sides of the issue: