The Kenwood Press
: 01/15/2015

Coyotes: The good, the bad and the ugly

Sharon Ponsford

When I got involved in wildlife rehabilitation over a decade ago, I had no idea what the laws in California were regarding wildlife. As time went on, I realized that our wildlife needs advocates, and decided that when I wasn’t doing the “hands-on” work with animals, I would spend my time advocating for them. The advocacy work has led me to many places that I would never have dreamed of going before, such as last month, when, as a board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators, I testified at the California Fish and Game Commission meeting in Van Nuys.

There were several topics on the agenda that I went to speak about, but I knew that the Commission would be making a decision in regard to coyote killing contests, and I wanted to be there for that. Up until a couple of years ago, I did not know that such horrible contests existed. Killing innocent animals for fun and prizes is way beyond my comprehension. These killing contests occur in many states, and they kill everything from coyotes and wolves to raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bobcats. All those animals lose their lives so that somebody can win a belt buckle or some other such prize.

In making their decision, the Commission rightly stated that “Awarding prizes for wildlife killing contests is both unethical and inconsistent with our modern understanding of natural systems.”

They banned hunts that offer prizes, and it wasn’t just about coyotes – it includes all non-game fur-bearing mammals. Hallelujah! It is a big step in the right direction, and I hope there will be many more to come.

What possible excuse is there to hold something so barbaric as a killing contest? The reason generally given is that they are helping ranchers and farmers by killing these predators. However, current science tells us that predators benefit ecosystems in many ways. Each one of these animals has a role to play, and everything is connected. The ugly truth is that these people just seem to enjoy killing animals.

Conservation organizations now work to promote coexistence with wildlife and to find solutions to human-wildlife conflicts. There are now many non-lethal methods available to manage predators. One of the best of these organizations is in Marin County, Project Coyote (www.projectcoyote.org). It was Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote, who was largely behind getting these predator killing contests banned. This is an organization that not only “gets it,” but knows what they are talking about. Project Coyote’s Science Advisory Board is made up of some of the top scientists in the field.

What’s bad about coyotes anyway? These wild animals are so adaptable, we rarely even see them, yet we know they live amongst us. They do us a big favor by keeping rodent populations in check, as well as cleaning up carrion. If farmers and ranchers protect their livestock, they rarely have a problem with coyotes. If they need help with that protection, there are now organizations such as Project Coyote that can offer help, so the naughty coyotes can be dealt with in a non-lethal way, rather than trapping, poisoning, and shooting.

I rarely see coyotes at my place, but when I do, I just stand still, and watch and admire them and their wildness. There is no sweeter way to go to sleep at night than listening to a coyote chorus.