Coyote killings under review

Annual Modoc County hunt’s days could be numbered

The spoils from a previous coyote hunt in Modoc County.

The spoils from a previous coyote hunt in Modoc County.

PHOTO courtesy of project coyote

A coyote-killing contest was held in Modoc County last weekend (Feb. 8 and 9). It was the eighth year in a row for the Big Valley Coyote Drive, sponsored by Adin Supply Co., and the number of coyotes killed—at least 40—was similar to that of prior years.

As Chris Clarke wrote in his ReWild column for KCET, a public television station based out of Southern California, the event has proceeded with very little fanfare or publicity. It has gone underground, organized by a few local fliers and a presence on the Internet in hunters’ forums.

For the second year in a row, the dead coyotes were dumped on private land, far from public view. The town seems to have circled the wagons regarding the affair, as the slogan on this year’s Coyote Drive 2014 T-shirt—given to every participant—had new sponsors and proudly proclaimed: “Our Outdoors. Our Freedoms.”

The contest was a matter of statewide controversy one year ago, when several environmental organizations, including Project Coyote and the Center for Biological Diversity, gathered 20,000 signatures in a petition and lobbied the California Fish and Game Commission to stop the 2013 coyote hunt. Their efforts were unsuccessful.

This year’s event didn’t go without incident: It was reported that Steve Gagnon, owner of the Adin Supply Co. store and primary sponsor of the hunt, pushed a 73-year-old man, Roger Hopping of Adin, to the ground for attempting to photograph hunters gathered outside the store. The incident reportedly took place after a verbal confrontation. Hopping, who sustained a fractured lumbar vertebra in the altercation and is expected to fully recover, said that Gagnon was cited for assault and battery and released on his own recognizance at the scene.

The case has been referred to the Modoc County District Attorney, who will decide whether to press formal charges against Gagnon. Opponents of the annual hunts will be especially curious to see what comes of the alleged assault, since Modoc County Sheriff Mike Poindexter appears on the Coyote Drive 2014 T-shirt as a sponsor.

The hunt in the Adin area has become high profile in recent years, but it’s among a number of similar coyote-killing contests that have become increasingly popular in California. Besides the Modoc County hunt, there are informal coyote-killing events arranged on the Internet via hunters’ forums. One such contest—organized on a Facebook page—is held monthly near Taft, in Kern County. This weekend, the first annual Coyote Derby will be held in the Fresno County community of Prather. Participants there will pay $25 for two-person teams, with the top three teams receiving unspecified cash prizes.

The contests have not escaped the attention of the California Fish and Game Commission. On Feb. 5, the commission voted 4-0 to look into a statewide ban on wildlife-killing competitions.

“I’ve been concerned about these killing contests for some time,” said commission President Michael Sutton, quoted in Clarke’s Feb. 5 ReWild column. “They seem inconsistent both with ethical standards of hunting and our current understanding of the important role predators play in ecosystems.”

Indeed, as Capt. Rick Banko, a Department of Fish and Wildlife officer, noted in a CN&R story on the Modoc County hunt one year ago, hunting coyotes is actually counterproductive when it comes to culling the population.

“In my opinion, coyotes are really not a problem up there,” Banko said, referring to Lassen and Modoc counties. “We get a few complaints about coyotes, but it is a sparsely populated region. Besides, the more coyotes are killed, the more they breed, so this event is not controlling the coyote population.”

As a result of the Fish and Game Commission’s vote, a formal rule-making process will commence, and the issue will be placed on the commission’s April 16 meeting agenda in Ventura for a full public vetting before the commission votes on whether to permanently ban wildlife-killing contests statewide.

After receiving public input, which is sure to include challenges by groups representing agriculture and hunting, a vote to actually ban wildlife-killing contests would more than likely be held by the Fish and Game Commission later this summer.

Camilla Fox of Project Coyote gave her take on the matter in a recent phone interview. She said she sees banning coyote-killing contests as a good first step to reviewing the entire role predators play in California’s wild lands—especially coyotes. Fox points to yet another state apparatus, the Wildlife Resources Committee, which is looking at overall predator regulations.

“We want to push the committee to take on bag and possession limits of nongame and fur-bearing predator species that currently have an open-ended, unlimited season,” she said.