Saturday, February 16, 2013

Coyotes and Wolves -- Emotional Flashpoints

Last weekend’s coyote killing contest in Moduc County, California generated a public outcry against “the gratuitous slaughter of wildlife as part of a contest to win prizes,” as said by Camilla Fox of Project Coyote (  California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Fish and Game Commission were flooded with over 20,000 letters, emails, and petition signatures protesting the contest as murder, gratuitous cruelty, and killing for fun.  

In response, Modoc County Sheriff Mike Poindexter said he won’t “tolerate any restriction of legal hunting on our public lands” (ignoring federal laws prohibiting or regulating coyote hunting on federal lands). He went on to say that he “absolutely will not tolerate any infringement upon your liberties pertaining to accessing or legally hunting on your public lands.”

Board members of anti-trapping organizations have received death threats such as “I would like to donate [sic] a gun to your childs [sic] head to make sure you can watch it die slowly so I can have my picture taken with it’s [sic] bleeding dying screaming for mercy body. YOU WILL BE THE TARGET NEXT B*#CHS!”

Why are coyotes and wolves so hated?

Are they rivals? Historically coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, grizzly bears  and bald eagles were considered competition for food and relentlessly slaughtered, nearly to the point of extinction. But that is not the case anymore. Man won that rivalry long ago.

Are they dangerous?  Reports of coyotes and wolves attacking humans are extremely rare, and certainly far fewer than the tens of thousands of attacks perpetrated by dogs. Most so-called attacks are defensive bites when the animal feels trapped or threatened.

Are the killings cost effective?  No. Predator eradication programs have not lessened the coyote population; in fact they seem to have increased the population. Studies indicate that wolf and coyote populations are self-limiting when there is an alpha breeding pair.  If the alpha breeding pair is killed, then more pack members mate and produce offspring.  

Yet, the Federal Wildlife Service spends a hundred million tax dollars each year killing predators, an amount far in excess of the reported losses in livestock.  In 2006, the agency reported killing 87,877
coyotes, 2,579 gray foxes, 2,542 red foxes, 2,532 bobcats, 511 badgers, 278 gray wolves, and 265 arctic foxes. The agency did not report how many household pets were killed.

Are they thieves? Yes, these predators kill livestock and household pets, and I understand the need to deal with individual predators that become too bold. But the percentage of livestock lost to predators is very small, and a great majority of those who hate coyotes don’t own livestock and have never lost a family pet. And these killing contests are not focused on problem predators. They are free-for-alls. Trapping is indiscriminate and kills thousands of household pets each year, not to mention eagles, otters, bears, and other unintended victims. A trapped animal dies a slow, cruel death.

Is this sport?  Somehow I can’t see that torturing a trapped animal is sport. Or even trapping itself. But take a look at  And thousands of people are members of Predators Masters (Hunting the Hunted) who are proud of luring coyotes to their deaths.

Why are coyotes and wolves loved?  

Because they remind of us dogs? Perhaps. Maybe not so much when they are alive, but the photos of dead wolves and coyotes being shown off as trophies look terribly dog-like. But that's too simple an explanation.

Because they serve an ecological function? Coyotes eat primarily rodents and rabbits which would otherwise cause extensive damage to crops. When coyotes are eliminated, rodent and rabbit populations balloon. In COYOTE WINDS, I depict a rabbit drive where farmers rounded up and killed thousands of rabbits to control the run-away population.

I suspect our emotional responses to coyotes and wolves are closely tied to our view of our relationship to nature.  If your view is that we have dominion over nature, then wolves and coyotes, with their defiant, stare you-in-the-eye attitude, challenge this dominion. I try to capture that attitude in one of the characters in COYOTE WINDS. Herbert Moser warns “the coyote and the prairie are trying to take what’s ours. We got to fight them with all we got.” He also explains he has seven mouths to feed.  

If your view is that mankind should live in harmony with nature and endeavor to minimize its disruption, then these predators inspire awe and respect. And we fear the consequences of their loss, both ecological and spiritual.

The challenge is finding the right balance.

What is your view?

Below are some informative links:  This site links to a number of informative investigative articles in the Sacramento Bee.