By Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle
A coyote hunt scheduled this month in Modoc County has triggered outrage from conservation groups that launched a statewide campaign this week to stop what they characterize as a bloodthirsty canine killing contest held for no other reason than the fun of watching a predator die.
More than 20 wildlife conservation organizations wrote letters urging state and federal wildlife management agencies to halt the three-day “Coyote Drive 2013″ scheduled to begin today in the woodlands around the rural town of Adin, in the far northeastern corner of California.
The plan for the seventh annual drive is for two-person teams to scatter into the hills. The team that guns down the most coyotes will be declared the winner. If there is a tie, the hunters who exact the largest death toll in the shortest amount of time will get top honors, according to the hunt guidelines.
The drive, which will cost $50 per team and include a gun raffle and T-shirt giveaway, is being touted as an attempt “to manage coyote populations in the Big Valley area.”
“Killing coyotes or any wild animal as part of a contest or tournament is ethically indefensible, ecologically reckless and counter to sound science,” said Camilla Fox, the executive director of Project Coyote and a wildlife consultant for the Animal Welfare Institute.
The irony, she said, is that shooting coyotes is a woefully inefficient way to manage coyote populations because it disrupts the carefully balanced hierarchy.
Studies have shown that coyotes breed more often and have more puppies when one of the pack leaders is killed. That’s because, in a pack, alpha coyotes are the only animals that mate. When the alpha is killed, all the previously celibate females will mate.
It is why, after two centuries of trying to exterminate the wily canines, there are now more coyotes in more places in North America than there ever were before, said Fox, who co-wrote the book “Coyotes in Our Midst.”
“It is well ensconced in science, after decades of research, that indiscriminately killing coyotes does not reduce coyote populations,” Fox said. “If anything, indiscriminate killing can increase coyote populations.”
The conservation groups, which also include the Center for Biological Diversity, insist that the hunt violates permitting requirements and that the hunters have failed to get the written permission from private landowners that is required by law.
The coalition also claims that the hunt’s sponsors, the Pit River Rod and Gun Club and Adin Supply Outfitters, have not set any boundaries, leaving open the possibility of hunters killing animals in other counties. This could pose a threat to California’s only known wolf and possibly other wolves that may have crossed the state line undetected, hunting opponents said.
“State wildlife officials have a duty to do everything in their power to protect gray wolves in California,” said Amaroq Weiss, the West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, adding that the gray wolf is protected in California under federal law and is a candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act.
The sponsors, who could not be reached for comment, were, by all accounts, swamped with complaints after conservationists sent out letters, online notices and press releases.
Karen Kovacs, the wildlife program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said protest letters and e-mails from as far away as France and Israel have been flowing into her office. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has since declared its land off limits. The Ash Creek Wildlife area, just outside Adin, is also off -limits to hunting, she said, but nothing can be done about hunting on private land.
“The expectation that wildlife officers will be available en masse on private land is a little unrealistic,” said Kovacs, adding that the department does not have the personnel to scrutinize every hunter unless there is a trespassing complaint or other reported violation.
As for wolves being killed, she said, the only California wolf, known as OR7, is at least 100 miles away in northeastern Tehama County.
Coyotes, which generally weigh between 25 and 45 pounds, are one of the most adaptable animals in America. They mostly prey on small animals and generally avoid humans. There has been only one documented case of a coyote killing a human in history.
They have been known to kill sheep and small calves, but many ranchers say sheep dogs and other livestock guarding breeds have been very effective in controlling livestock predation by coyotes.
What’s sad, Fox said, are the numerous photographs of dead coyotes that are posted online after every hunt.
“It’s mind-boggling how much fun some participants get from the mass killing of animals that are so much like our beloved companion animals, their cousins the dog,” she said. “It is wanton abuse of wildlife.”