I've been following this story for weeks, watching it evolve. First, the owner of a New Mexico shooting range and fun store launched a contest, offering up two Bushmaster AR-15 rifles to the person who could kill the most coyotes in a two-day span. After public outcry, the owner cancelled the contest. But it was taken up by Gunhawk Firearms owner Mark Chavez who wasn't deterred by the outrage expressed at the idea of the contest.
Facing the same public outcry as before -- in fact more, as he has even received a death threat that is being looked into by the FBI -- Chavez claims to be supporting the rights of hunters by keeping the contest going. While I've been following the story, I didn't have plans to write on it until reading this in an article this morning, "Many have urged Chavez on, calling his detractors tree huggers."
Ah. Well. That does it. Now, as a TreeHugger, I have to write about this.
Taking place this weekend, November 17-18, the contest will award whomever can bring in the most dead coyotes over the weekend with a Browning Maxus 12-gauge shotgun or two AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.
The arguments for the contest (oh, sorry, not contest: "We're not calling it a coyote contest anymore. It's a coyote management hunt," he said after it was abundantly clear that the idea of a contest was not going over well with the public) are weak indeed.
For example: "Chavez says he likes to hunt mule deer, but their population in New Mexico has dropped by two-thirds in the last 50 years, to about 100,000. In that span, coyotes adapted and flourished, in part by preying on fawns."
Oh... got it. So since this hunter likes to kill deer, it makes sense to try to eliminate the competition. Well isn't that a simple answer to make it easier to shoot yourself some Bambi. Oh, and as for coyotes adapting and flourishing over the last 50 years...yeah they've kinda been doing that all over the country, in case you hadn't noticed. And no, it's not simply because they've suddenly discovered deer make a tasty treat.
Also, "These hunters will help small-town economies over the weekend, Chavez said. Purchases of gasoline, meals and supplies will be good for businesses, he said."
Yeah, because one weekend of 60 teams of 1-2 participants will make such a huge difference in the towns' economies. I mean really, he's saving the entire community. Right?
And not just the economy, but he'll also keep the homeless warm through the winter! He says "he will hire a taxidermist to salvage the pelts and hides, his answer to critics who called the event blood sport."
"There are people who still enjoy wearing furs. I'll pass them out to the homeless if I have to," he told Alamogordo Daily News.
Wow. What a public citizen.
However, if he and participants paused and put their machismo in check, they'd realize a few important points about hunting coyotes.
Killing off as many coyotes as you can spot is not an effective management strategy. It never has been, it likely never will be. Coyotes are smart, extremely adaptable, and self-regulate their populations. When you kill a bunch of coyotes in one area, coyotes from other areas will move in to the now open territory. With the abundance of space and food supply, females will have larger litters. That means even more coyotes. Researchers call it the "vacuum effect." So don't call this contest a "management strategy." It's not. It's a killing contest, and one that will have no positive outcome for any party involved (except maybe the dude who wins the guns, but that's subjective).
Sure, there are indeed some problem coyotes that take to killing sheep, and it's true that lethal control is the best way to solve the problem because coyotes won't unlearn such behavior once it has begun and relocation doesn't work. But these coyotes represent a minute fraction of the overall population. The vast majority of coyotes don't go after sheep or calves.
And as for deer, yes coyotes can and will feed on fawns. It's a natural food source for the species. And that's a really, really good thing. It helps keep deer numbers in check -- which human hunters alone probably wouldn't do -- which means more balanced ecosystems as well as keeping parasites and diseases spread by deer in check. The same goes for other mid-level predators like racoons, skunks and feral cats. Coyotes eat these, which leads to healthier populations of birds, which leads to better natural insect control and stronger levels of biodiversity all around.
Coyotes are an apex predator, and apex predators are incredibly important to maintaining healthy ecosystems. If Chavez and participants are really interested in "keeping wildlife populations in better balance" as he claims, then a mass hunt of coyotes wouldn't be happening this weekend.
As for those against the contest, good news comes in the form of the fact that state and federal lands are off limits to the hunt, as no permits have been issued. That means it can only happen on private land, which means land where the owners have agreed to allow this hunt -- most likely that will be ranchers, especially those that have been affected by problem coyotes that have preyed on their livestock. That puts some real limits on the coyotes impacted.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports:
“The participants in this commercial and unregulated exploitation of wildlife do not have a permit or lease to be on State Trust Lands,” said State Land Commissioner Ray Powell. “Individuals killing coyotes on State Trust Land will be considered in trespass.”
He said such contests are not about hunting or good land management practices. “These contests are about personal profit, animal cruelty, and the severe disruption of the delicate balance of this desert ecosystem,” said Powell. “These lands support our public schools, universities, and hospitals, New Mexico’s important agricultural industry, our unique wildlife populations, and the cherished natural world we call home – New Mexico. It is time to outlaw this highly destructive activity.”
The State Land Office administers 13 million acres of trust land throughout the state.
It's at least a small amount of consolation for what is clearly a bloodthirsty and Testosterone-addled event.