Yesterday Project Coyote and allies filed suit in Oregon challenging the authority of the USDA Wildlife Services program to kill any of the approximately 81 remaining gray wolves in Oregon. The legal challenge comes just weeks after a federal court ruled that Wildlife Services’ controversial wolf killing program in Washington is illegal.
Earlier this week Project Coyote NH/VT Representative Chris Schadler testified before the NH Fish and Game Commission challenging a proposal to open a season on bobcats in New Hampshire which would allow hunting, trapping, baiting and hounding of a species that has been protected statewide since 1989.
Also on Monday evening, on the opposite coast, Project Coyote representatives and supporters testified at a Wolf Conservation Planning meeting in Sacramento, California pressing for a science-based approach to wolf recovery in California and a plan that recognizes the ecological importance of these apex predators.
Across the country we continue to press for better protections for our important apex predators while we work with communities to promote coexistence through our Coyote Friendly Communities and Ranching With Wildlife Programs. Read more about these efforts below. And please join us in celebrating our first honoree for Project Coyote’s Wildlife Stewardship Award – former President of the California Fish and Game Commission – Michael Sutton.
For the Wild,
Camilla H. Fox
Founder & Executive Director
Lawsuit Challenges Wildlife Services’ Authority to Kill Wolves in Oregon
As states take over management of wolves, USDA Wildlife Services is the go-to federal agency for lethal wolf control. Project Coyote and allies challenged the authority Wildlife Services to kill any of the approximately 81 remaining gray wolves in Oregon. Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, our complaint contends that Wildlife Services failed to explain why killing wolves on behalf of livestock interests should replace common-sense, proactive and nonlethal alternatives such as those reflected in the Oregon Gray Wolf Management Plan. The National Environmental Policy Act requires both this analysis and public disclosure. In Oregon and Washington, Wildlife Services completed vague plans to target wolves for livestock depredations but failed to justify why nonlethal alternatives would be inadequate.
Protecting Wolves in California
Now that wolves are protected under the CA Endangered Species Act and the first breeding pair has been established in the state since their extirpation in the 1920s, the state is developing a state Wolf Conservation Plan that will guide management decisions as gray wolves recolonize their native home. However, the current plan could lead to the removal of vital protections for wolves before the state’s wolf population is stable. As a member of the CA Wolf Coalition, Project Coyote has joined with our allies in pressing for a strong plan that emphasizes proactive recovery, best available science and innovative approaches to conflict mitigation. CA residents: if you’ve not already commented, please take a moment to submit an online comment to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife urging them to follow through with strong safeguards that will protect wolves across California for generations to come (comments accepted until Feb. 15th).
Protecting Bobcats in New Hampshire
The bobcat is the most widespread wildcat in North America. But by the 1980s, their numbers throughout much of their historic range had dwindled due to bounties, hunting and trapping. In 1989, the bobcat became a fully protected species in New Hampshire. In October of 2015, pressure from the hunting and trapping lobby resulted in a NH Fish and Game Commission vote in favor of initiating rule-making to establish a bobcat hunting, trapping, baiting and hounding season, to include the issuance of 50 permits (for NH residents only) via a lottery system. In her testimony before the Commission, Project Coyote’s Chis Schadler stated “As a conservation biologist I can state that there is no biological reason to hunt the bobcat, or any other predator; predators regulate themselves,” as reported by NH Public Radio.
Through our Coyote Friendly Communities and our Ranching with Wildlife programs Project Coyote works with communities across America to promote coexistence and reduce negative encounters between people and wildlife both in urban and rural landscapes. Our representatives provide presentations and workshops on topics from Living with Coyotes to Understanding Native Carnivores, Ranching with Wildlife and Hazing Coyotes. In San Francisco, Project Coyote’s Gina Farr recently provided a workshop about coyote hazing for city residents. Camilla Fox will provide a free presentation – Wild Things: Co-Existing With North America’s Native Carnivores – at the Presidio’s Officers Club on Feb. 4th (more info. here). Project Coyote NM Rep. and East Coast Representatives Chris Shadler, John Maguranis, Stacey Evans and Marilyn McGee are providing presentations across the Eastern Seaboard, promoting Project Coyote’s mission and message of compassionate coexistence..
Project Coyote’s Wildlife Stewardship of the Year Award
Michael Sutton, former President of the California Fish and Game Commission, was honored with Project Coyote’s 2015 Wildlife Stewardship of the Year Award for his exemplary leadership in promoting compassionate conservation, stewardship and peaceful coexistence between people and wildlife in California and beyond. Sutton is a social entrepreneur and internationally respected conservation leader who has worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, National Audubon Society, World Wildlife Fund, and the David & Lucile Packard Foundation. Governor Schwarzenegger twice appointed Sutton to the California Fish & Game Commission, where he served from 2007-2015. He was instrumental in creating the nation’s largest network of marine protected areas. He was elected President for two years and presided over the Commission’s action to list the Gray Wolf as endangered in California, ban wildlife-killing contests statewide, and implement legislation prohibiting the use of toxic lead ammunition for all hunting.
Inside the US agency charged with killing a ‘mindboggling’ number of animals
After anti-government protesters took over Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this month to support two ranchers convicted of arson, it emerged that the convicts, Steven and Dwight Hammonds, had received thousands of dollars in financial support from the federal government. Read More
How cruelty killed the bobcat
You’ve probably never seen a bobcat. It’s an elusive creature that’s about two to three times the size of a house cat – a feline with distinctive spotted fur that’s coveted around the world. Read more
A Baker City, Ore., man who told state police and wildlife officials that he’d shot a wolf while hunting coyotes on private property has been charged with killing an endangered species.
Brennon D. Witty, 25, also was charged with hunting with a centerfire rifle without a big game tag, Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan said Monday. Both charges are Class A misdemeanors, each punishable by up to a year in jail and a $6,250 fine. Witty will be arraigned Dec. 2 in Grant County Justice Court, Canyon City.
The shooting happened in Grant County; the neighboring Harney County DA handled it as a courtesy because his Grant County counterpart was acquainted with the hunter’s family and wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The incident happened Oct. 6, when Witty voluntarily notified ODFW and Oregon State Police that he’d shot a wolf while hunting coyotes on private property south of Prairie City. Police recovered a wolf’s body on the property.
Oregon’s action to remove wolves from the state endangered species list has no apparent bearing on the case. Wolves were listed under the state Endangered Species Act at the time of the shooting; the ODFW Commission on Nov. 9 removed wolves from the state list. Regardless, they remained on the federal endangered species list in the western two-thirds of the state.
The wolf was identified as OR-22, a male that has worn a GPS tracking collar since October 2013 and dispersed from the Umatilla Pack in February 2015. He was in Malheur County for awhile, then traveled into Grant County. Wildlife biologists don’t believe he had a mate of pups. Young or sub-dominant wolves often leave their home packs to establish their own territory and find mates.
OR-22 was the third Oregon wolf known to have died since August, when the Sled Springs pair in Northeast Oregon were found dead of unknown cause. The state now has a minimum of 82 wolves.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The single-engine plane came in low as the seasoned pilot maneuvered to give his gunner a clear shot at a coyote on the ground below. They were on a mission to hunt down predators that had been killing livestock in northeastern New Mexico.
A spotter less than a mile away had his binoculars trained on the coyote. He heard two or three gunshots as the plane passed over its target and through his field of view. Moments later, he heard a crash and looked up to see the plane planted in the ground.
Pilot Kelly Hobbs and his gunner, Shannon “Bubba” Tunnell, were killed. A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board released late Wednesday says the impact pushed the engine into the cockpit.
No strangers to the risks of aerial gunning missions, the men left the Raton airport just after dawn on June 5. After passing over the edge of a mesa and spotting the coyote, the pilot began to descend. At one point, the plane was flying just 42 feet above the prairie, according to GPS data.
After Tunnell took his shots, Hobbs began to climb to the left. The last reading showed the plane was nearly 100 feet off the ground and its speed had dropped to 62 mph through the turn.
Ranchers across New Mexico are mourning the two men, who were working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services branch at the time of the crash. Ranchers say they would often turn to Hobbs and Tunnell for help in protecting their cattle and sheep from predators.
“It hit me pretty hard when I heard about it. It was just like a punch in the stomach,” said Candy Ezzell, a state lawmaker who worked with Tunnell just weeks earlier to address coyote problems on her ranch in southern New Mexico.
Funeral services for both men were planned Friday.
Their deaths bring to 12 the number of public employees killed during Wildlife Services aerial gunning operations in the U.S. since 1979. Many of the aerial missions happen in the West, where sheep and cattle ranchers regularly report problems with predators.
Hundreds of thousands of hours have been logged by Wildlife Services pilots over the decades. Agency officials stand behind their safety record, but environmentalists argue that the costs are too great and the federal government should end aerial gunning. They pointed to the fatalities along with more than 100 crashes and dozens of injuries.
“In no uncertain terms, putting agents into the air so they can gun wildlife from low-flying aircraft is so inherently dangerous and reckless,” said Wendy Keefover of The Humane Society of the United States.
A review of accident investigations shows pilots have flown into power lines, trees and land formations, Keefover said. Some also have flown back into their air turbulence and in several instances, gunners have shot their own aircraft or bullet casings have become lodged in mechanical workings.
The call to halt the practice stretches back to the last deadly crash in 2007 in Utah. At the time, Wildlife Services responded by launching a safety review.
As for the potential of another review, agency spokeswoman Lyndsay Cole said the focus now is on helping investigators determine what caused the latest crash in New Mexico.
The preliminary report states the weather was calm and there was no apparent evidence of any mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have caused engine problems.
Flying low and at relatively slow speed is risky, but Ezzell and other ranchers say aerial gunning operations are invaluable since controlling predators across such large swaths of land can be difficult. Trapping and coyote-calling contests have also come under fire, leaving ranchers with fewer options.
“With folks in the city wanting to end trapping and calling, it has become a real issue for the ag community and has affected the state’s ability to manage wildlife,” said David Sanchez of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association.
Aerial operations were used by Wildlife Services last year to kill more than 35,000 animals in two dozen states. That included more than 21,000 coyotes.
The agency targets animals that prey on livestock and other wildlife as well as nonnative species that damage crops or cause problems at airports. A total of 2.7 million animals, the majority of them birds, were killed last year.
400,000 Coyotes Are Killed in the U.S. Each Year… The Reason Why Will Make You Livid
M. M. SullivanAt least 400,000 coyotes are killed each year in the United States. That’s an average of nearly 1,100 individuals a day.
So why isn’t the government doing something to stop it? Well, mainly because they have been orchestrating a discreet mass slaughter of coyotes for nearly a century.
Read more at http://blog.therainforestsite.com/killing-coyotes/#g4cx4aXjKm7uwMDO.99
The numbers are shocking. Since 1996, Wildlife Services has shot, poisoned, and strangled 27 million native animals; in 2014 alone, Wildlife Services killed close to 3 million animals. That’s 7,400 animals slaughtered every single day across the U.S.— not by hunters or poachers, but by a little known government agency called USDA “Wildlife Services” whose stated mission is “to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.” This killing is done largely at the behest of ranchers and agribusiness. The carnage costs U.S. taxpayers more than 100 million dollars each year.
But we are holding this rogue agency accountable! In response to legal pressure from Project Coyote, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other allies, Mendocino County, CA officials recently agreed to suspend the renewal of the county’s contract with Wildlife Services pending a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). For the first time, this agency’s actions will be assessed under CEQA, requiring public disclosure of the full impact of this program on all wildlife- both target and non-target- and on the environment. Furthermore, non-lethal alternatives must be considered.
Representing our coalition, I am en route right now to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors meeting where I will present nonlethal approaches to coexisting with wildlife. I will speak of our successful model in Marin County – known as the Marin County Livestock and Wildlife Protection Program. It works. Since implementation 15 years ago, livestock losses and costs to the county have decreased; fewer wild species have been killed. Ranchers have embraced the cost-share program that provides guard animals, better fencing and other non-lethal predator deterrents. Joining me is Keli Hendricks, Project Coyote Predator Friendly Ranching Coordinator, who will talk about some of the innovative non-lethal tools and methods we are testing on ranches in Marin and Sonoma County.
Please read this excellent op-ed in the Sac Bee by Lee M. Talbot – Stopping the Slaughter of America’s Native Wildlife, one County at a Time– and help us continue this critical work to stop the killing, reform predator management, and promote coexistence by donating to Project Coyote today. We depend on individual donors to sustain our important work for North America’s wildlife.
Sign on date by Friday April 17th
Attachments report and letter and list of signatures to date
Hello friends and colleagues,
Some of you have helped me in the past by signing onto a letter to request a ban on carnivore hunting in the National Seashore. I am writing again to ask for your help in signing another important letter.
As you know, federal protection for Wyoming wolves was restored September 2014. Then in December 2014, federal protections for wolves in the Great joh States was restored through judicial action (HSUS v. Jewell). In response to the decisions, two separate bills have been introduced: The Western Great Lakes Wolf Management Act (HR 843), introduced by Representative John Kline (R MN) now has 11 co-sponsors and Reissuing Final Rules Regarding Gray Wolves in the Western Great Lakes (HR (884) introduced by Representative Reid Ribble (R WI) now has 11 co-sponsors.
We have every reason to fear these bills since a bad precedent was set in 2011 when federal protections for wolves was removed through Congressional intervention in the Western states when legislation was attached as a rider to the “must pass” budget bill. It could happen again.
Although several sign-on letters have been circulated, this one is different as it asks for a NO vote for each of the two bills but also offers two alternatives: 1) the HSUS petition to downgrade wolves from endangered to threatened and 2) to ask Congress to do some real work and use the Bruskotter/Vucetich Framework for Recovery as a start to address ambiguities in the ESA.
We are asking that you sign on to the attached document by submitting:
YOUR ORGANIZATION + ONE LINE SUMMARY OF EITHER YOU IF SIGNING AS AN INDIVIDUAL OR BUSINESS OR ORGANIZATION
YOUR EMAIL (Your email will not be included in the document, it will only be used in case we need to contact you)
DO NOT PUT YOUR NAME IN THE DOCUMENT, WE WILL DO THAT. DO NOT ALTER THE DOCUMENT, IF YOU SEE AN ERROR, NOTIFY US.
SEND TO email@example.com BY Friday, APRIL 17 , 2015
We plan to send the letter with all the signatories to members of Congress, their aids and USFWS along with Secretary Jewell when Congress returns from spring break.
Below is the link to the document (if you need a link to share) that is on the carnivore conservation act website.
Please distribute this message to colleagues and/or organizations or businesses that would be willing to sign. Our goal is to get a minimum of 150 signatories. Please be one!
From Project Coyote:
Coyotes in Nevada need your voice! On March 20th, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners will vote to accept or reject a petition to ban coyote-killing contests in the state. You do not have to be a Nevada resident to express your support and have it count! Encourage the Commission to accept this petition; there are four ways to do so:
- Testify at the Commission meeting on Friday, March 20th. You do not need to be an “expert” or have detailed information! Since these contests involve the unnecessary destruction of a public “resource” (wildlife, including coyotes, belongs to everyone per NRS 501.100), your opinion and related comments are pertinent. Please see “talking points” below to guide your testimony and remember, anyone can testify – kids included (and encouraged).
- If you can’t make it to the meeting, email or write to the Commission at the address below to express your support for a ban and to encourage the Commission to accept the petition. See “talking points” for guidance on what to say.
- In addition to the above, submit letters to the editor of Nevada papers in support of a ban on coyote-killing contests. See “talking points” below, but as always, the more you personalize your letter, the more effective.
- Spread the word! Pass this alert on to others in Nevada and encourage them to take action.
Meeting starts at 8:30am. Petition hearing should begin around 9:30-10:00am but arrive early to get a seat and to sign up to testify.
There will also be a video conference connection in Las Vegas and Elko.
In Las Vegas:
College of S. Nevada, 3200 Cheyenne Ave., Main Building, Room 2638.
Great Basin College, 1500 College Parkway, High Tech Center, Room 137.
1100 Valley Road
Reno, NV 89512
Talking Points (please personalize your letters!):
Please be sure to state that you encourage the Commissioners to accept the petition to ban coyote-killing contests in addition to outlining your arguments against such contests.
- Coyote-killing contests are conducted for profit, entertainment, prizes, and simply for the “fun” of killing. In December 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to close the loopholes that allowed the killing of wildlife for prizes and inducements – becoming the first in the nation to ban the practice for coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other species. Nevada should follow California’s lead.
- Coyotes are often baited and lured with distress calls of pups or wounded prey, placing coyotes at an even greater and unfair disadvantage. Read more here.
- No evidence exists showing that indiscriminate killing contests serve any effective wildlife management function. Coyote populations that are not exploited (e.g. hunted or trapped) form stable “extended family” social structures that naturally limit populations through defense of territory and the suppression of breeding by subordinate female members of the family group. Indiscriminate killing of coyotes disrupts this social stability resulting in increased reproduction and pup survival. Read more here.
- Coyotes have been shown to provide ecosystem services that benefit humans, including the control of rodents and rabbits which compete with domestic livestock for forage and which are associated with diseases such as plague, hantavirus, tularemia and Lyme disease. Read more here.
- Coyote-killing contests perpetuate a culture of violence and send the message to children that life has little value and that an entire species of animals is disposable.
- Coyote-Killing contests put non-target wildlife, companion animals, and people at risk.
- A ban on coyote-killing contests in Nevada will not restrict the ability to protect property including livestock, will not undermine Second Amendment gun ownership rights, nor will it limit hunting in any other way.
The 3-year-old female wolf — named “Echo” in a nationwide student contest — captured the attention of wildlife advocates across the county because it was the first wolf seen in the Grand Canyon in 70 years.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did DNA tests to confirm the wolf killed in late December by a Utah hunter who said he thought he was shooting a coyote was the same one that was seen roaming the Grand Canyon’s North Rim and nearby forest in October and November, said agency spokesman Steve Segin.
Geneticists at the University of Idaho compared DNA taken from the northern gray wolf killed in southwestern Utah with scat samples taken from the wolf seen near the Grand Canyon last fall.
The hunter who killed the wolf called Utah state officials in December and said he mistook the wolf for a coyote, said Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Hadley. The man, whose name was not released, said he didn’t realize his mistake until he came up on the dead animal. In Utah, anybody can hunt coyotes.
The state handed over its initial findings of what happened to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Hadley said. That investigation is ongoing and could take weeks or months to complete, Segin said. It’s not clear yet what penalties the hunter could face for killing the animal.
Wolves are protected in Utah under the Endangered Species Act.
Wildlife advocacy groups have called the wolf’s death heartbreaking and say they want the hunter prosecuted. They said the animal could have helped wolves naturally recover in remote regions of Utah and neighboring states.
“Wolves and coyotes are distinguishable if one pauses for a second before pulling a trigger,” said Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are consequences for pulling the trigger when you don’t know what you’re aiming at. It’s important to have justice for this animal.”
Wolves and coyotes often have similar coloring, but wolves are usually twice as large as coyotes, said Kim Hersey, mammal conservation coordinator with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Wolves also have longer legs, bigger feet and rounder ears and snouts, she said.
But, Hersey says how well a person could distinguish between the two would depend on the lighting, the distance and how much experience a hunter has comparing the two animals.
The wolf had worn a radio collar since January 2014.
Wolves can travel thousands of miles for food and mates. Gray wolves had been spotted as far south as Colorado until the Arizona wolf was confirmed. Gray wolves last were seen in the Grand Canyon area in the 1940s.
In recent years, the Fish and Wildlife Service lifted protections for the wolves in the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes. But a federal judge recently reinstated the protections after wildlife advocates in Wyoming sued.
The Center for Biological Diversity has documented 11 cases since 1981 where hunters told wildlife officials they had shot a wolf thinking it was a coyote.
This week, a convention of predator hunters is gathering in Tucson. The group, called Predator Masters, hunts such animals as coyotes and raccoon and has drawn national criticism for what critics say amount to killing contests. The group disputes that term and says it isn’t planning an organized hunt during the convention. Still, controversy surrounding the sport remains.
It’s hard to tell the difference between an actual coyote’s howl and the plaintive yell longtime hunter Rich Higgins can make with one of his many breath-powered calling devices.
“I truly believe that humans are hard-wired, genetically, as hunter gatherers,” he said, after showing off a few of the cries. “So we’re just being true to our nature.”
Higgins is the president of Arizona Predator Callers, one of the many organizations in the state that legally hunts predators like coyotes on public land. He said it isn’t so much about killing, as it about everything else involved with the sport he loves.
“Everything from building your own calls and your own howlers, learning the behavior of that animal, so you can exploit its vulnerabilities,” he said. “All of this is fascinating to us.”
And that’s the real point, he added, of what some people call “killing contests.” That’s when a group like his tries to kill as many coyotes as they can in a certain period of time. The reality is that most hunters don’t even bag a coyote, Higgins said. It’s more about hanging out with people who also enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
“It’s an incredible experience,” he said. “And becomes addicting.”
That doesn’t exactly comfort predator hunting opponents, who say it’s a waste to kill animals without using them for food or fur. Sandy Bahr is the president of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. Her organization is not against all hunting, she said, but with some predator hunters, “there is this attitude, which is pretty disrespectful of the animals, that ‘we’ll just go out and kill as many as possible.’”
Even if you take away the emotional side of this, Bahr said there could be real consequences from this kind of hunting. If the coyote population dips, there could be a large spike, followed by a crash, of prey species that coyotes usually keep in check. On the other hand, coyotes could actually increase in number.
The more they feel threatened, “the more they’ll have larger litters,” she said. “They’ll breed earlier, they actually respond by doing more to build the population.”
But the Arizona Game and Fish Department sees it differently, including Jim Paxon, special assistant to the director.
“Under no circumstances and in geographic area, have hunters made a dent in the coyote population,” he said.
He said there are an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 coyotes in the state. Game and Fish attempted to regulate hunting contests about 15 years ago, without success. But Paxon said the department doesn’t take an official stance now. Instead, it enforces current rules. Those allow people with valid hunting licenses to kill as many coyotes as they want.
“So, it’s recognized that coyote hunting is a legitimate activity for hunters and sportsmen,” Paxon said.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy, even for a seasoned predator hunter like Rich Higgins.
“I always have a tinge of regret. Always, always, always,” Higgins said. “And sometimes, when it becomes a little bit strong, I will pick up my camera only.”
In his heart, Higgins said, he is a hunter. And that’s regardless of whether he’s hunting coyotes with a lens — or a rifle.