In mid-January, the second annual Harney Coyote Classic encouraged what can only be called a "coyote slaughter." The event, held near Burns, is yet another example of some sportsman's desires gone haywire. Over the past 100 years, stories of coyotes being the worst nemesis of ranchers and farmers have been so blown out of proportion that the moment shooters need a bigger target than ground squirrels, they pick the coyote, all in the name of livestock protection and sport.
Sure, coyotes will kill and eat livestock (as will wolves and feral dogs); that's been going on ever since the wool-growers and cattlemen decided public lands were better for grazing than their own fenced in back 40, and the presence of predators alarmed the ranchers, so they turned to the government to help them out.
That, old friends, was when the real trouble started. The wolf was easy to eliminate; the trappers just concentrated on killing pups and moms in dens and trapping family units — bingo! The wolf was gone. That worked so good the government set out to get rid of the coyote the same way, but it backfired. Instead of killing them off, the trappers just created larger populations of coyotes which only became job security for them.
But it did far more than that. In the '30s and '40s, Aldo Leopold, a quiet forester from Wisconsin who worked for the Forest Service in New Mexico, tried to tell the government and ranchers they were doing it all wrong, both from the methods of killing coyotes (and wolves), plus the long-term ecological damages that would result. But the ranchers and sportsmen had the bit-in-their-teeth; the wolf and coyote had to go.
The sport shooters who participated in the coyote-killing contest last week over in Burns did nothing but satisfy their urge to use their expensive weapons and ammunition to kill something.
I take no issue with killing a specific coyote who is doing specific damage to a rancher's livestock—it is an unfortunate consequence of human/wildlife interactions. But it was engrained in me early in my "hunting" life that, "What you shoot, you eat."
Sure, I've heard the old sayings about how vicious coyotes can be, but I can say the same thing about my neighbor's dog that got into my chicken yard and—and in a frenzy killed all my hens. It just seems to me a human being can do better than surrender to the primitive state of having to kill something—just for the pleasure of it.
In 2003, the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game discontinued coyote removal activities, except where individual animals were causing damages because evidence indicated deer populations had not significantly improved in those areas where coyote control was taking place.
"The Department spent a total of $292,000 on contracts with trappers, who removed 1.334 coyotes—that's about $219 per coyote," said Luis Rios, Division of Wildlife chief. In 1938, Missouri sent the government trappers packing and taught ranchers and farmers how to remove the individual coyote causing a specific problem. The next year showed an 82 percent drop in livestock fatalities to coyotes.
Also, coyotes are a different breed of canine than wolves. They just don't think alike; they evolved over different paths and different times. Sure, they both enjoy being territorial, the wolf more so than the coyote, but when you poke a sharp stick into coyote culture they fight back. I caught onto this back in 1968.
I was asked by the Defenders of Wildlife to be a watchdog over a government-sponsored coyote-killing project on the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge that was supposed to enable higher pronghorn kid survival. The Defenders made sure every coyote killed was hand delivered to me and a researcher pal from Reed College to have their stomachs looked into for prey analysis.
We looked at every coyote stomach for a week, and not one trace of a pronghorn kid was found, but we did find ground squirrels and voles in great abundance, competitors for green plants that helped pronghorn kids to grow up and become healthy adults. Which goes to prove, scientifically, that coyotes are doing more "good," than "bad" — most of the time. Oh, yes, we did find one sage grouse, and I thought the government trappers were going to celebrate all night.
But what also got my eye was a fellow working on a table next to ours. He was removing what appeared to be reproductive tracts of the females. Curiosity finally got the best of us and we went over and asked what he was doing.
His answer was something like this: "I've been curious for years why the coyote's range has been expanding ever since we started killing them some 100 years ago. I think they've responded by leaving territories and pair-bonding behind and just moving out on the landscape living the life of vagabonds. Now there's one dog (male coyote) running with several bitches (female coyotes) and instead of having three to five pups, females are giving birth of up to eight."
Then he showed us the multiple ovarian scars on the female's fallopian tubes, evidence that the coyote has been "getting even" for over 100 years of indiscriminate killing that's been going on.
Where once the coyote was more-or-less confined to the Southwest, now they're (literally) everywhere in the US of A: downtown Chicago, Boston and all over New England; the suburbs of Beaverton and Los Angeles, the Oregon Coast and Willamette Valley (much to the anger of wool-growers there) and in our backyards. Wouldn't surprise me if they popped up in Quebec one of these days.
My son, Dean, retired from the Air Force and living in upper New York state, has a family of coyotes living on his 40-acre bee farm. "Just like back home in Oregon, pop," he said, via a text with photos of the coyote family.
We don't have to pity the coyotes; they can take care of themselves. What we should do is put a stop to the senseless killing of wildlife to satiate the ever-growing desire on the part of some sportsmen to kill something.
We should adopt what Leoplod tried to tell us in 1939: take the coyote out of the hands of what is now the Oregon Department of Agriculture and place them in with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife where they can be managed as part of Oregon's wildlife ecosystem.
I'm pretty sure the tiny sagebrush and meadow voles, the coyote's bread-and-butter—who can reach population numbers that have put cowmen out of business—are clapping their paws with glee with all those terrible, ugly, dangerous coyotes killed near Burns.
It's interesting to note that the organizer of the hunt, Duane Freilino, says he will never pull another stunt like that—because of money. He paid the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Project Coyote five grand and agreed to never organize another coyote hunt—for the wrong reason. It seems money runs the world of wildlife killing, not common sense or "management."