Letter in Favor of Hunting Coyotes

from Brian O'Gorman of East Sandwich

Letter to the Editor:

In November of 1996 an ill-conceived initiative promulgated by animal rights ideologues, known as question 1, prohibited the use of leghold traps, snares and the use of dogs (for the one or perhaps two individuals in the Commonwealth who did this) and bait in hunting black bear or bobcats in Massachusetts.  The Commonwealth’s wildlife officials did nothing to counter let alone correct the rampant misinformation in the ballot campaign, nor was any factual information that perhaps could have dissuaded enough of the uninformed voters from supporting ill-conceived ballot-based wildlife management.  We hope that if coyote hunting (or any other carnivore hunting) comes up on a future referendum that the Commonwealth’s wildlife officials will take another tact.  Just think of what the results of professional wildlife management input into a question such as this would mean.  After all, the right of members of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and other public officials to speak out on issues of public interest within their regulatory authority and expertise, as permitted by a recent Maine court decision was affirmed.  This was regarding attempts to use the ballot box to prevent black bear hunting in that state.  Our fellow New Englanders in Maine saw right through the anti-hunting propaganda and voted ballot-based wildlife management down.   Time and time again we observe that a cabal of ant-hunters resort to wildlife management by ballot box – and it almost always causes unintended poor consequences.  Unlike the Commonwealth, our neighbor state Vermont has the right to hunt written in the state constitution.  And in that state, as it should be in Massachusetts, coyote’s population management is done as it should be – as a valuable renewable furbearer resource, conducted by competent wildlife professionals, using best management practices – not hampered by anti-hunters with an agenda.

The process that I have described should give a renewed thought to our elected officials that want to take away coyote hunting.  They should know better but perhaps pandering to animal rights ideologues pays a richer reward than doing the right thing. The banning of the taking of coyote, by either trapping or hunting, will not stop the harvest of this valuable furbearer renewable resource.  Banning it will be sure to result in killing, wastage, and probably public disregard of what has become an important species – just as outlawing the taking of beaver in Massachusetts by leghold traps in drowning sets did after the 1996 question 1 referendum passage. The individuals who want to stop coyote hunting will have no problem and probably will not even care if a nuisance coyote lies rotting and bloated in some landfill or along some highway, as long as the anti-hunting agenda is maintained.  Banning the harvest of coyotes will also lead to the loss of an important cost-effective tool in managing our coyote populations.  This is something that is absolutely required in an urban state such as ours where there is the inevitable human/wildlife conflict.  A properly conducted hunting season can also serve as an avenue for collecting important biological data.  Indeed, the virtuous conservation consequences of hunting are known to every reader of environmental articles and those who choose to enjoy hunting.  No rationally thinking individual can dispute the overwhelming amount of data and evidence that demonstrates that hunting is critical for animal conservation, as well as for protecting animal habitat.

I do not believe that the current hunting and trapping seasons impact the population in the long-term, as coyote numbers have shown that they are much more limited by prey availability than by pressure from hunting or trapping.  In contrast, in places without hunting or trapping, coyotes can become habituated to humans, especially if they fed, where this has been known to occur at the Herring Cove parking lot on the Cape Cod National Seashore.  This type of solution almost always leads to and indicates a bad outcome for the individual animal that is affected – the killing and subsequent wastage of nuisance coyotes.  Rural residents are already well aware of the problems of nuisance coyotes with the predation on domestic livestock; and suburban and urban residents are constantly plagued by dog and cat pet loss attributed to coyote.

The wonderful Massachusetts shorebird populations that are affected by coyote predation is troubling.  Piping plover, several tern species, perhaps the red knot and also American oystercatchers should not be unnecessarily impacted during their nesting or migration layovers on any Cape Cod beach, and that especially includes Cape Cod National Seashore or Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.  The harvesting of coyotes can help in the preservation of these shorebirds.  I just cannot understand why anyone will oppose common sense solutions to assisting in the protecting of our spectacular shorebird populations because of their dislike of hunting coyotes.  It just doesn’t make sense. The magnificent flocks of shorebirds that are seasonally present on Monomoy currently have some predator protection through the use of lethal means and the proposal by the refuge managers to give hunters the recreational opportunity to harvest the coyotes is to be lauded. 

We read in local Cape Cod Times that rat infestation problems could be ameliorated by coyotes.  Nonsense! This cannot be substantiated by any scientific study.  In direct contradiction to this type of statement, scientific studies of the diet of coyotes have shown that they may be very selective over the prey they target and rodents such as rats do not occur in their diet in proportion to rat numbers.  Therefore, it is rather unlikely that there is a logical reason in controlling rat pests by halting the regulated harvest of coyotes.  So, how do we solve rat infestations?  Sanitation and hygiene are good starting place for those individuals that claim to have special knowledge about rat control by giving coyotes complete protection.  Stop giving rats access to food in your dwelling and clean your place up is another very good solution.  Coyote protection an invalid solution to rat infestation.

We also read in the Cape Cod Times that coyote meat is not eaten.  Well, this an animal that is a furbearer, managed as such, and it is unlikely to be consumed (there is no special requirement to do either) and probably would not be unless in circumstances of extreme famine.  No hunter is going to be angry if you don’t consume the meat!  Why should the activity of hunting be even decided by whether the harvest is eaten as meat or not?  Actually however, hunters have been known in certain situations to eat coyote and notably even the television celebrity chef Andrew Zimmer has prepared it for the table in an episode Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel (season 8 episode 6) with coyotes taken in upstate New York.  In addition, coyote carcasses may be rendered into products suitable for mink ranch feed and their anal glands and foot pads may be processed into lures suitable for trappers to use as attracters.

The non-consumption of meat issue should not be the major criticism of coyote harvesting.  The majority of Massachusetts hunters enjoy harvesting the coyote and take pride in the processing of the properly sealed coyote pelt into products suitable for taxidermy projects; turned into warm comfortable and luxurious garments by furriers skilled in the needle arts – a biodegradable renewable natural resource; or sold to fur dealers for extra income.  Some of the sportsman’s magazines indeed gives prices paid by fur dealers for a variety of coyote pelts on a monthly basis, indicating a market for this product.  Recent prices (February 2019) for Eastern coyote fur as reported by the North American Fur Auctions were at very respectable $54 average, representing a good return even for the occasional predator hunter.  As reported by the auction, the animal rights people have very little leverage in this activity, as well their meddling should not.  Certainly, fashion designers in Hong Kong, Italy and China purchasing the 51,000 coyote pelts offered during that sale were not concerned.  Occasionally one can even observe football fans from Cape Cod watching the New England Patriots team playing at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro wearing locally harvested coyotes from their cranberry bogs and that have been turned into warm comfortable clothing to ward off the cold weather.  Everyone should be free to choose what they want to wear and more importantly, animals aren't always killed "for their fur" – and so what if they are?  Coyote fur is a byproduct of the dispatching of wild game and the dispatching of wild game is a necessity for many, many reasons!  No one forces an anti-hunter to hunt a coyote or to wear coyote fur or to watch someone wear a coyote fur product.  Make a functional coat out of those coyote pelt you harvested and suddenly you have misplaced ire from anti-hunting ideologues!  I don’t approve of the anti-fur people wearing what amounts to a bucket of petroleum products (that is to say nonrenewable and not biodegradable in any landfill I am aware of) and turned into faux fur or any other synthetic item.  Coyote fur is “green” (not in the crackpot concepts of the Green New Deal however)!   It is a renewable resource and a biodegradable item that has a special place for those that choose to wear it and they should be allowed to harvest it.  Indeed, in some jurisdictions in the US unused carcasses of furbearers, including coyote, are composted, as a special benefit to hunters, and the results used as a fertilizer, neatly completing a nutrient cycle.  What could be “greener” than that?

We often are exposed to the anti-hunters demonstrating against coyote hunting contests.  Coyote hunting contests are a new phenomenon in Massachusetts, but have been common in the taking of other game on a more casual basis – big buck as in white tail deer, wild turkey, etc.  Yes, in recent years, competitive coyote hunting contests have been held by hunters and the public is aware of protests against the proud hunters who want to be recognized in a reasonable manner the weight of their take and compare it to another hunter’s take.  No one forces an anti-hunter to watch this and furthermore the arrogant self-righteous motivation to dictate why hunting and subsequent contests should not occur is the height of unfairness.  It also flies in the face how we behave in a free and democratic society and the place of humans in the world.  Although these activities follow Massachusetts laws and regulations, these hunts also do not have any measurable impact on regulating coyote populations.  Where significant reductions in coyote numbers are locally achieved, the missing animals are soon replaced with young coyotes moving in from other locations, so any local population reduction is only short-term and the carrying capacity is soon established once again.  Coyotes can also increase their reproductive rates in response to hunting, so populations rebound quickly from efforts to control their numbers directly by hunting or trapping.  There is nothing cruel or immoral or wrong with the legal harvest of coyote!

To abrogate the stipulation of allowing and permitting hunting during the Cape Cod National Seashore creation in the 1960’s would be an outrage.  Coyote hunting should be continued to be allowed in the Seashore or expanded as proposed in plans for the Mashpee NWR or Monomoy NWR.  This is a species whose population status is of least concern to wildlife biologists throughout the range, as it should be.

The control of the coyote population should be determined by professional career wildlife managers employed by the Commonwealth, particularly in the Division of Fish and Wildlife and that hunting and trapping of this valuable renewable natural resource be considered a major tool in the management thereof, not to be prohibited.  Hunters and trappers have paid, and continue to pay for the land, our Massachusetts Wildlife Management Areas, through taxes on the sporting goods that they purchase.  We also purchase sporting licenses that contribute to the management and employment of true wildlife professionals – educated as such and with many years of experience.  Believe it, demonstrations are allegedly aimed at stopping coyote-killing contests, but the true ultimate goal is the banning of all hunting, and a cynical position of preventing the consumption of harvested wildlife.

Coyotes are prolific predators that our Division of Fish and Wildlife are attempting to manage and control scientifically.  Coyote hunting contests are just one tool that incentivizes hunters to help us manage these predators, which kill native species including our magnificent flocks of shorebirds; prey on domestic animals, livestock and pets; and may – and have – attacked humans, sometimes when afflicted with rabies.  Allowing coyotes to influence the population of other wildlife and humans because of a moral judgment that killing them is wrong is certainly very irresponsible.  And yet these animal-rights activists want to shut down an efficient method for managing their population.  They just can’t stand the idea of regulated use of furbearing species in a controlled fashion to do so.   It’s well known that animal-rights groups view the life of an animal as equal to that of a human being.  But it’s an outrage that Massachusetts would go down the same path when they know that coyotes are a public safety threat that is only increasing.  Please don’t let these animal rights ideologue activists win.  It all makes me wonder how the harvesting, utilizing the resulting furs and supporting what humans have been doing since the Pleistocene, some 1.7 million years ago,  and also supporting sporting goods industries, which sustain thousands of jobs, affect the lives of animal rights extremists, who turn a deaf ear to scientific policies set forth by educated wildlife managers hired to manage the species.  I can just imagine the anti-hunting extremists must have insomnia because they are so concerned that somebody else might be enjoying themselves hunting coyote and entering the harvest in hunting contests.

Sincerely,                                                                               

Brian O’Gorman, East Sandwich


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