Score one for the coyotes

Celebrating the end of contest killings in California

The author is a psychiatric nurse who lives in Concow. He is the author of a CN&R cover story titled “The coyote hunt,” which ran on Feb. 28, 2013.

Every evening, the local coyotes that inhabit my off-grid neighborhood break into song. I like to think they are singing about something, sharing stories, letting the world know of their joy. Listening to the coyotes sing—their yip-yipping—is an exhilarating, comforting experience, a simple pleasure, much like listening to the pitter of rain on my tin roof or watching the flames (and feeling the heat) from my woodstove.

I sometimes capture one or two of the handsome critters on a trail camera I set up on this ridge, always caught during the night. They are incredibly smart animals. Once, on a hike, a coyote ran in front of me and my dogs, taunting us, making the dogs give chase. While chasing after the dogs, I looked over my shoulder, only to see another coyote slouching away, protecting its den and pups. We were too close to their home so a diversion had to be created. It worked.

As long as we don’t raise chickens, the coyotes mostly leave us alone, content to do their job of keeping the rodent population down in this semi-wild community. It’s an important task, what with the hanta virus and bubonic plague making a comeback.

One of my neighbors raises goats. She has guard dogs that protect the herd. She hasn’t lost any goats to the resident coyotes. There is a gentle balance of wild and domestic here in these woods.

It is hard to believe that anyone would kill coyotes for the sport of it—that “killing contests” would still exist in this modern age. It is still harder to believe that contests giving extra points for killing pregnant coyotes would be an acceptable part of our culture. Nor would anybody believe that a killing contest would be a reasonable management tool for ranchers. I once wrote a story about such a contest. I traveled to Adin, Calif., where hunters hid their mass kill from my prying eyes.

Recently, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 4 to 1 to end such contests. Once again, just like the mountain lion hunting ban that passed by citizen initiative back in 1990, California is leading the nation. We are rethinking our relationship to predators. And we are a better state for doing so.

When the coyotes in my neighborhood sang for me the night after the ban was established, I like to think they did so in celebration. And to share that joy, I howl with them.