OUR CAMPAIGN TO SAVE SPECIES FROM A ROGUE FEDERAL AGENCY ACTING FOR PRIVATE INTERESTS
A little-known agency known as “Wildlife Services,” a unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is secretive for a reason: Its actions are incredibly, unacceptably and illegally brutal and inhumane to animals, from familiar wildlife to endangered species — and even people’s pets.
This agency has been killing as many as 3 million native animals every year — including coyotes, bears, beavers, wolves, otters, foxes, prairie dogs, mountain lions, birds and other animals — without any oversight, accountability or requirement to disclose its activities to the public. The agency contributed to the decline of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, black-footed ferrets, black-tailed prairie dogs, and other imperiled species during the first half of the 1900s, and continues to impede their recovery today.
Many of these animals are carnivores at the top of the food chain and have a tremendous benefit to overall ecosystem health. They include endangered species and, largely, animals that agribusiness interests consider undesirable — as well as many animals that aren’t intended targets of the agency. The century-old Wildlife Services — which has reportedly killed 32 million native animals since 1996 — destroys these creatures on behalf of such interests without explaining to the public what it’s doing or where, the methods it’s using, on whose behalf it’s acting, or why. It frequently doesn’t even attempt to use nonlethal methods before shooting coyotes and wolves from airplanes, or laying out traps and exploding poison caps indiscriminately — including in public areas — without any rules. Stories about Wildlife Services consistently emerge describing an agency that routinely commits extreme cruelty against animals, leaving them to die in traps from exposure or starvation, attacking trapped coyotes, and brutalizing domestic dogs. Many people who know about the agency have criticized this dark, secretive entity as a subsidy for livestock interests.
We can’t stress enough that this agency’s practices have gone on for decades with little public oversight or rules requiring that it use the best available science or techniques to reduce the deaths of nontarget animals — or even the suffering of target animals.
The Center is working to end the secrecy and reform this rogue agency — or even suffering — for the good of wildlife, ecosystems and even domestic animals.
To protect defenseless wildlife from Wildlife Services and begin to restore the natural balance of ecosystems, in 2013 the Center filed a comprehensive petition for rulemaking with the Department of Agriculture, which is supposed to oversee the secretive agency’s actions. This legal petition demands the development of a regulatory code — something that every other agency maintains — to reform the agency and bring it in line with all of the nation’s laws, policies and values.
Last week’s California Fish and Game Commission got a lot of press attention for the Commission’s decision to add the gray wolf to the state’s Endangered Species list, but another decision by the panel has so far slipped under the radar: an agreement to move forward on a ban on wildlife-killing contests in the state of California.
A push to ban such contests has been sparked by public reaction over the last several years to the annual Coyote Drive in the Modoc County town of Adin. Public support for a ban would seem to be strong. Of public comments received as of mid-March by the Fish and Game Commission, 12,896 supported a ban, while eight opposed one.
The ban has been moving through the commission’s somewhat lengthy rule-making process since February, but a Wednesday agreement by the commission would make sure the ban applied to all animals currently targeted by organizers of wildlife killing contests.
According to Project Coyote who has been pushing the commission to consider a ban for several years, founder Camilla Fox, that agreement brings the proposed rule back into line with the original intent of the state law that covers wildlife contests. That law, Section 2003 of the Fish and Game Code, actually already bans wildlife killing contests in the state, saying that “[I]t is unlawful to offer any prize or other inducement as a reward for the taking of any game birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, or amphibians in an individual contest, tournament, or derby.” But the rule adds a loophole, subsection D, which exempts contests from the ban if the total prizes offered total less than $500.
“This loophole contravenes the intent of section 2003 which is to eliminate any prize or other inducement as an reward for the taking of wildlife,” said Fox in her testimony before the Commission Wednesday. “A simple rule to eliminate this loophole will rectify this issue and remove such incentives for the mass killing of wildlife.”
Fox urged the Commission to strip the language limiting the ban to coyotes, foxes, and bobcats from the proposed rule, and the commission agreed.
“Killing contests are not a proper way of introducing youth to the outdoors,” replied Commissioner Richard Rogers. “I know, for I am an Eagle Scout. There was no killing involved in developing in me my love of nature.”
The commission is expected to make a final decision on a ban later this year.
In honor of ALL mothers, help us end predator killing contests!
In case you missed my message last week I wanted to make sure you see this.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day, please consider the wild four-legged mothers who are being indiscriminately killed year-round in predator killing contests. As a result, thousands of pups and kittens are orphaned in the spring and left to die a slow and lingering death.
What message does this send to our children about the value and sanctity of life when prizes are given for the most females killed and youth are encouraged to join in the killing contests?
We are on the verge of setting the trend for the nation by banning predator killing contests in California and we need your help to stop this violence! Please help us win this battle by making a contribution to Project Coyote today.
Part of the reason hunters get their way so often when it comes to “game management” decisions is that they don’t hesitate to make their wishes known to state agencies. Why should they, they’re all one in the same, right? But wildlife lawmakers are required to acknowledge all sides; the more input they get from the animals’ side, the harder it will be for them to act like hunters are the only one’s with a stake in the issues.
Here’s something posted on a hunting chat board promoting contest hunts that begs for an equal and opposite reaction from the coyote’s side…
I would like to ask all hunters to take one minute and send a short friendly message to the Washington Wildlife Commission now. You should also ask friends, family members, and members of any sporting groups you belong to do the same
Here is a sample message, add an additional point or two if desired, but keep it short and friendly:.
Send To…. email@example.com Subject….. I Support Coyote Hunting Contests
Dear WDFW Commissioners, I would like to express my strong support for coyote hunting contests. These contests provide a great deal of recreation for hunters across the state and much needed management of Washington’s undermanaged coyote population.
Thank you for your consideration, (your name & address here)
[Note: I chose to start this piece part way into it in order to spare the reader the gory detail of its title question.]
…After digging into the wolf-hate literature featured on Idaho for Wildlife’s website, I wondered whether the residents of Salmon were looking to kill wolves out of spite. They hated these creatures, and I wanted to understand why.
Besides killing wolves, one of the group’s core missions, according to its website, is to “fight against all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights and anti-gun organizations who are attempting to take away our rights and freedoms under the Constitution of the United States of America.” The website also suggested that media coverage of the event was not welcome. The only way I’d be able to properly report on the derby, I figured, was to go undercover as a competing hunter. So I showed up in Salmon a few days before the event, paid the $20 sign-up fee, and officially became part of the slaughter.
The derby called for hunters to work in two-person teams. In the weeks leading up to the competition I recruited pro-wolf activists Brian Ertz and his sister Natalie Ertz, native Idahoans who have worked for local conservation groups. Rounding out our teams was Brian’s friend Bryan Walker, a gnarled former Marine and an Idaho lawyer who has studied shamanism and claims to have an ability to speak with animals.
The nice old man in the bar, whose name was Cal Black, bought the four of us a round of drinks when we told him we were in town for the derby. Cal had grown up on a ranch near town, and his thoughts on wolves reflected those of most other locals we met. Salmon is livestock country—the landscape is riddled with cows and sheep—and ranchers blame wolves for huge numbers of livestock deaths. Therefore wolves needed to be dispatched with extreme prejudice. The derby was a natural extension of this sentiment.
“Gut-shoot every goddamn last one of them wolves,” Cal told us. He wished a similar fate on “tree huggers,” who, in Cal’s view, mostly live in New York City. “You know what I’d like to see? Take the wolves and plant ’em in Central Park, ’cause they impose it on us to have these goddamn wolves! Bullshit! It’s said a wolf won’t attack you. Well, goddamn, these tree huggers don’t know what. I want wolves to eat them goddamn tree huggers. Maybe they’ll learn something!”
We all raised a glass to the tree huggers’ getting their due. I fought the urge to tell Cal that I live in New York part-time, and that in college Natalie trained as an arborist and had actually hugged trees for a living. Her brother, who is 31 and studying to be a lawyer in Boise, Idaho, had warned me about the risks of going undercover when I broached the idea over the phone. As a representative for the nonprofit Western Watersheds Project, which has lobbied for wolf protections, he’d attended numerous public meetings about “wolf management” in communities like Salmon. “Salmon is the belly of the beast,” he told me. “There is not a more hostile place. It’s Mordor.”
Brian’s former boss at the Western Watersheds Project, executive director Jon Marvel, has received death threats for speaking out in favor of wolves and against the powerful livestock industry. Larry Zuckerman, a conservation biologist for the pro-wolf environmental nonprofit Wild Love Preserve, suspects that it was pro-wolf-hunting residents from Salmon who fatally poisoned his three dogs. Many pro-wolf activists across the American West, especially those who have publicly opposed the ranching industry, have reported similar threats and acts of aggression—tires slashed, homes vandalized, windows busted out with bricks in the night. Idaho for Wildlife’s opinion on the situation is made clear on its website: “Excess predator’s [sic] and environmentalists should go first!”
Prepping for the derby, we disguised ourselves according to the local style: camo pants and jackets, wool caps, balaclavas, binoculars, and heavy boots. When he wasn’t mystically communicating with elk, Walker enjoyed hunting them. He didn’t look out of place in Salmon, carrying his M4 rifle with a 30-round magazine and a Beretta .45 on his hip. He loaned me his bolt-action .300 Win Mag with a folding bipod, while Brian carried a .30-06 with a Leupold scope. Natalie, who is tall and good-looking, was armed only with a camera and played the part of a domesticated wife “here for the party,” as she put it.
At the derby registration the night before the killing was to commence, we were so convincing that the organizers didn’t even bother to ask for our hunting licenses or wolf permits. Instead they suggested spots in the surrounding mountains where we could find wolves to shoot illegally.
From left to right: Bryan Walker, Brian Ertz, and Natalie Ertz
In Wolves and the Wolf Myth in American Literature, S. K. Robisch presents the wolf as a “mystical force in the human mind,” one that for thousands of years has been associated with the purity of bloodlust, the unhinged cruelty of nature. The wolf as mythological super-predator brings terror and chaos, devouring our young, our old, the weak, the innocent, and the foolish, operating through trickery and deceit.
From Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Little Red Riding Hood loses her grandmother to a cross-dressing wolf, and the Three Little Pigs pay the price as well. In the late Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church declared the wolf an agent of the Devil, or possibly the shape-shifting manifestation of Satan himself. And of course the werewolf, a human turned beast by the contagion of a bite, also lived in the imagination as a demonic figure, killing for sport under the light of the full moon, indiscriminate and lunatic.
In Anglo-Saxon and the Germanic languages, certain words for wolf—warg, warc, verag—were also used to describe bandits, outlaws, and evil spirits. In Swedish, the word varg simply meant “everything that is wrong.” Even Teddy Roosevelt, the conservationist president and lover of the wilderness, referred to wolves as “the archtype of ravin [sic], the beast of waste and desolation.”
In reality, Homo sapiens shares a long and intimate relationship with Canis lupus. The gray wolf was the first animal to be domesticated out of the wild, long before the cow, horse, or goat. Its direct descendant is classified as Canis lupus familiaris, better known as the common dog, which, despite its wide subset of breeds, is almost genetically identical to the wolf. The bear, the tiger, the lion—feared predators of the human race, even today far more dangerous to man than wolves—never came out of the dark to join the fire circles of early hominids. The wolf did, though the humans in its midst became food on some occasions.
It’s theorized that wolves and humans, some 20,000 years ago, hunted the same prey—large herbivores—and, like us, wolves worked in packs. We fed at their kills, and they fed at ours. Antagonism gave way to mutualism, symbiosis, cooperation.
Around 8,000 BC, however, humans began to domesticate livestock and gather in villages. The wolf was no longer our friend, as it stalked and devoured the sheep and cows we now kept as property. Hatred of the beast was born, and it grew in proportion to our divorce from the wild.
Western man, armed with gunpowder and greedy for land, proved from the moment he arrived in the New World to be a more capable beast of waste and desolation, as predators of all kinds—the wolf, the cougar, the coyote, the black bear, the grizzly, the lynx, the wolverine—fell before his march. Wolves were shot on sight, trapped, snared, fed carcasses laced with poison or broken glass, their pups gassed or set on fire in their dens. “Such behavior amazed Native Americans,” writes wildlife journalist Ted Williams. “Their explanation for it was that, among palefaces, it was a manifestation of insanity.”
The sprawling roads, farms, towns, and cities of the young republic completed the job by systematically razing the wolf’s habitat. By 1900, wolves had disappeared east of the Mississippi. By the 1950s, they could only be found in isolated regions of the American West, with perhaps a dozen wolves remaining in the contiguous 48 states, compared with a pre-Columbian population estimated at several hundred thousand.
The point of this slaughter was not to protect human beings, although this remains the enduring perception. Only two fatal wolf attacks on Homo sapiens in North America have been reported during the past 100 years, with perhaps a few more over the course of the 19th century (the records prior to 1900 are uncertain and the stories undocumented, often embellished and tending toward the folkloric). A 2002 study conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research reviewed the history of wolf predation on humans in Europe, Asia, and the US from 1500 to the present and found that wolf attacks were “extremely rare,” that “most attacks have been by rabid wolves,” and that “humans are not part of their normal prey.” Wolves in the United States died at our hands for the most part because of the ancient grievance: They ate our cattle and sheep, representing viscerally that which could not be tamed.
Then, in 1974, wolves in the United States got a reprieve. The passage of the Endangered Species Act the previous year had cleared the path for Congress to declare the animals endangered, making it illegal to hunt them. Wolves had survived by the thousands in the forests, mountains, and prairies of western Canada, and now, protected from widespread slaughter in the US, portions of the population began a slow march of recolonization, dispersing south from Alberta and British Columbia and into Montana. In 1995, Congress expedited this process by mandating the reintroduction of captured Canadian wolves to the mountains of Idaho and Wyoming.
Thereafter, wolves thrived as never before in our recorded history, and ecologists noted with astonishment the beneficial effects on ecosystems in the West. In Yellowstone National Park, a centerpiece of this reintroduction, wolves pared the overabundant populations of elk, which had stripped the park’s trees and grasses. With fewer elk, the flora returned, and the rejuvenated landscape created habitats for dozens of other creatures: beaver in the streams, songbirds in the understory, butterflies among the flowers.
Such was the perception of success that by 2009 the US wolf population was declared fully recovered. In 2011, when Congress rescinded the wolves’ protected status, scores of biologists, ecologists, and wildlife scientists protested the decision. Critics observed that the removal of Canis lupus from the endangered species list had been accomplished mostly due to the lobbying efforts of the livestock industry. For the first time since 1974, wolves across the Northern Rocky Mountains—in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana—were legally hunted, trapped, and shot with vengeance. The winter hunting seasons decimated whole packs. At the behest of ranchers, the US government joined in the slaughter, dispatching predator-control agents from the federal Wildlife Services.
The view of wolves as vermin bent on stealing ranchers’ livelihood has carried through to the present, though little evidence supports this stigma. The number of cattle and sheep lost to wolves and other predators each year is negligible. In 2010, just 0.23 percent of cattle in the US died from “carnivore depredations” (as wolf attacks on livestock are officially categorized).
And it didn’t matter that aggressive “predator management” has no basis in ecological science. “The myth we’ve been fed is that predators like wolves need to be hunted because otherwise they’ll grow out of control, exponentially,” said Brooks Fahy, director of the nonprofit Predator Defense, in Oregon. “But no scientific study backs this up. Wolves self-regulate if left alone.” Wolf management, Fahy said, “is a form of rationalized madness.”
Proud derby contestants displaying a pair of coyotes
Hundreds of killing contests have taken place all over the USA…Here is a description of a killing contest that just happened in Michigan — This pic and the description are on a public forum.
What is a “tagged coyote”? A tagged coyote is one that was previously trapped, marked in some way and then released, and killed for a prize.
“Just a few weeks ago the “Call of the Wild” Predator Round Up was held near our cabin in Luzerne Michigan. The hunt began at 7:00 p.m. Friday night and ran till 12 noon Sunday. Seventy three (73) hunters signed up comprising 33 different teams. Several teams used coyote dogs and others worked various “sets” while calling. The hunters with the dogs had the advantage, but the first “yote” turned in was by a father and son team who called the 29.7 pound female within range of a flat shooting 223″ …..
“Ma Deeters (local bar/restaurant) was the starting point of the hunt, and the Best Hardware store was where the successful hunters displayed their success. There were around $1700.00 dollars in prizes with anyone bringing in a tagged coyote receiving a $1000.00 dollar bonus. Knight and Hale (game calls) donated many of the prizes handed out. First coyote, biggest, (41 pounds) ugliest, and longest awards were all given out at the culmination of the hunt. Two of the dog teams garnered most of the awards.
On Sunday afternoon there were eleven (11) coyote and one fox hanging on the game pole at the hardware store. There was an additional prize to any team that brought in the “trifecta” of predator hunting (a coyote, fox, and bobcat.) No one collected that award this year, but one team came close.”
Earlier this month in a remote northeastern corner of California, residents in Modoc County slaughtered at least 40 coyotes in an annual killing contest known as the Adin “Coyote Drive.” In Crane, Oregon last month, the “Eight Annual JMK Coyote Hunting Contest ” advertised no geographic restrictions for its killing contest that resulted in the death of close to 150 coyotes last year. (The number of animals killed were not disclosed this year.) In Salmon, Idaho coyotes and wolves were targeted in the “1st Annual 2 Day Coyote & Wolf Derby” where 21 coyotes were gunned down on the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – our nation’s safety net for wildlife that brought wolves back from the brink of extinction.
What do all of these killing contests have in common? They award prizes to those who kill the most individuals and the largest (and sometimes the most females) perpetuating a culture of violence that sends a message to children that life has little value and that an entire species of animals is disposable. Despite the incomprehensible cruelty and predictable ecological destruction, hundreds of wildlife killing contests, many encouraging youth participation, take place throughout the country, resulting in countless deaths of vital predators. Project Coyote brought international attention to this issue generating thousands of emails and letters to federal and state agencies and to killing contest sponsors. In addition to exposing the brutality, Project Coyote and allies challenged the legality of the contests in court and were instrumental in ensuring that some of the events did not take place on public lands. Most significantly, at the request of Project Coyote, the California Fish & Game Commission voted unanimously to consider a statewide ban on wildlife killing contests. Project Coyote Executive Director Camilla Fox requested a ban at the February 5th Commission meeting. “We urge you to use your authority to regulate and restrict take by initiating a rule-making process to prohibit wildlife killing contests — thus modernizing predator management, conservation and stewardship statewide- and setting the trend for the rest of the nation — as we do so well here in California.” Watch Project Coyote in action here: