Coyote and a California proposition
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1997:
may split the Coalition to Protect California
Wildlife, and the proposed 1998 California
Wildlife Ballot Initiative that the coalition
formed to present, into separate committees
and separate initiatives.
The 1998 California Wildlife Ballot
Initiative was conceived as The Big One, a
head-on confrontation with hunters, trappers,
and ranchers in the most populous state. Signed
on in hopes a California victory could build
national momentum carrying into 2000 and
beyond were the American SPCA, the Animal
Protection Institute, the Ark Trust, Friends of
Animals, the Fund for Animals, the Humane
Society of the U.S., the International Fund for
Animal Welfare, and the Mountain Lion
Foundation, which has already scored referendum
victories for pumas in three of the last four
It appears now, though, that the
anticipated Big One may instead be two or
more referendum bills––and while those who
argue for “group unity” at all costs may be disappointed,
there is also much to be said for
splitting up to confuse the hounds and avoid
giving the men with guns a broad silhouette.
Coyotes get the blame because they
almost always get the blame. If they eat sheep
and young cattle felled by bloat or rough weather,
they get blamed for predation. If they leave
livestock alone, hunters blame them should
deer and rabbit numbers drop. If they eat rats,
they get blamed for knocking over trash cans.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
blames coyotes for declining populations of
pronghorns at the Hart Mountain National
Antelope Refuge in southern Oregon and
Columbian whitetailed deer at the Julia Butler
Hansen Refuge in southern Washington. The
USFWS has claimed at each site that coyotes
are eating all the newborns, including 17 of 21
sets of remains recovered last year at Hart
Mountain––but the real issue, cautions Nevada
antelope biologist Jim Yoakum, “is not predators
affecting pronghorns, but how nutrition is
affecting pronghorn populations.” The species
have, after all, coexisted together for thousands
There are far more cattle at Hart
Mountain than pronghorns, and far more cattle
at the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge than
Columbian deer––and if the mother pronghorns
and deer don’t get enough to eat, in competition
with the much larger cows, weak fawns
succomb easily to harsh weather and illness,
while a coyote will as readily scavenge their
remains when they die of natural causes as go
to the trouble of killing them.
A hint that the Hart Mountain pronghorns
would be in trouble even without coyotes
came when 16 of 20 who were outfitted with
radio collars in March died of “capture myopathy,”
a fancy term for stress, before the middle
of April. A hint that the USFWS isn’t eager for
anyone to look into the refuge grazing contracts
came on March 19, when refuge manager
James Hidy refused in response to Freedom of
Information Act requests from both A N I M A L
PEOPLE and Friends of Animals to disclose the identities of
the contract holders. Instead he released the current contracts
with the names blacked out. This was enough to ascertain that
the USFWS earned $23,354 from leasing the Julia Butler
Hansen Refuge pastures in 1996––and that no cash changed
hands. Instead, the refuge paid the leaseholders, on paper, as
much or more for services supposedly rendered, including
mowing, fence repair, fertilization, and barging cattle from
the mainland to the several refuge islands and back.
Only fertilization has immediately evident benefit to
the Columbian whitetails. But just 12 of the 1,632 refuge acres
used for ranching were fertilized in 1996, according to the contracts,
while inedible non-native weeds took over much depleted
pasture. And even Tom Sawyer never got a better deal on
fence work. Leases covering 612 acres and 457 acres, respectively,
generously credited the ranchers for 41 hours and 50
hours of fence repair. But the ranchers did even better by leases
covering just 47 and 44 acres, which paid them for 31 hours
and 21 hours of fence work. The leases allowed up to 905 cattle
to roam the refuge, roughly 15 per deer currently
present––and a full-grown cow eats about 10 times as much as
a Columbian whitetail.
About all that coyotes don’t get blamed for are the
disappearance and dismemberment of some free-roaming pets
whose demise is wrongly ascribed to laboratory animal suppliers
or sadists by people who don’t know how cleanly a coyote
snaps off a smaller animal’s bones, mistake incisor holes
punched into a skull for drilled holes, and don’t understand that
if startled by humans, a coyote will run to hide with the prey
animal’s innards, if he can get them, leaving behind a pelt that
only looks as if it had been eviscerated with a knife.
Such cases pop up several times a year, especially in
California: currently in Los Angeles, last fall in Sacramento,
the year before on the San Francisco peninsula, and the year
before that in San Jose. Sometimes reward funds are raised to
encourage the arrest and apprehension of the imagined human
suspect. Occasionally trouble erupts over what to do with the
money when no human is arrested. Coyote, the trickster of
Native American legend, might appreciate that irony.
In the case of the California Wildlife Ballot Initiative,
perhaps the blame should be credit, because more than any
other wild mammal, coyotes have perfected decoy strategy,
both to hunt, as one coyote distracts a sheep dog while the rest
of his pack sneaks into the herd from the opposite direction,
and to evade being hunted, as a “cowardly” coyote slinks along
with his tail between his legs, looking over his shoulder, drawing
a potential killer away from his mate and her litter.
Appreciating coyotes, Friends of Animals president
Priscilla Feral and Fund for Animals president Cleveland
Amory want to protect them from the vengeful cruelty of
humans, who trap, poison, and hound them––and shoot and
gas and burn them alive in their dens as pups, too, often as
staff of the USDA Animal Damage Control unit.
Initiative language favored by the Humane Society of
the U.S., because preliminary polling done late last year
showed it has an almost certain chance of passage, would ban
“inhumane/body-gripping” traps, “with normal exemptions,
similar to the initiatives [approved by voters last November] in
Colorado and Massachusetts,” according to CPCW meeting
minutes faxed to ANIMAL PEOPLE by multiple sources.
But “normal exemptions” as pursued by HSUS vice
president for legislation Wayne Pacelle and west coast representative
Nancy Perry would include predator control. One
couldn’t trap a coyote just to sell her pelt, but trapping her to
hang her carcass from a barbed wire fence as a warning to her
kin because she ate sheep or a free-roaming dog or cat would
still be within the law.
The HSUS version of the initiative would also “ban
the use of hounds for hunting most furbearing mammals with
exemptions for animals such as squirrels and birds.”
Feral and Amory think California voters are ready to
do better by wildlife––especially the long maligned and tormented
coyote, whom Mark Twain remarked as seemingly
friendless even before the federal Department of the Interior
commenced a wolf extermination program in 1905 as a project
to employ ex-cavalrymen who had run out of Indians to kill,
and then, after killing the last wolf in the continental U.S. in
1928, formed the ADC unit in 1930, originally as a branch of
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to kill coyotes too.
The polling firm J. Moore Methods Inc. found in
early April that 53% of California voters would favor an initiative
“which would prohibit the practice of using dogs to track
and hunt bears, raccoons, opossums, bobcats, foxes, and
coyotes.” Thirty-six percent would strongly support it; only
34% would oppose it either “strongly” or “somewhat.”
While the HSUS exemptions are supposed to get
around opposition to such an initiative, the poll discovered
ambiguous results as exemptions were added. Support
increased to 56% if the question allowed “traps to be used by
ranchers to eliminate animals that threaten their livestock,” but
allowing “the use of leghold traps to eliminate problem animals
when a more humane solution fails” cut support to 51%.
Support for the proposed initiative fell to 45% if the
question was expanded to include a prohibition on “the use of
Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide, two poisons used to kill
coyotes threatening sheep,” but opposition rose only to 42%,
and the percentage of undecided voters climbed to 13%, the
highest for any form of the question.
Banned in 1972 by then-president Richard Nixon,
Compound 1080 was reauthorized a decade later by Ronald
Reagan for use in lethal sheep collars. As a coyote tears at a
sheep’s throat, he poisons himself. Used for years in some
states, the Compound 1080 collars were recently reintroduced
to California by woolgrowers in Humbolt County, who claim
to have lost 2,590 sheep over the past three years, and may be
reintroduced in Oregon after a comment period ends on May 6.
(Address Oregon Department of Agriculture, Plant
Division, Attn. OAR Hearing Officer, 635 Capitol St. NE,
Salem, OR 97310-0110. Request a fact sheet on Compound
1080 from the Animal Protection Institute, 916-731-5521.)
Ranchers have never liked coyotes––and now the
same hue-and-cry comes from some quarters in suburbia.
“We are collectively concerned about the fact that we
have had more than 50 cat losses and a lot of cat carcasses left
on the golf course,” Ridglea Country Club Estates
Homeowners Association spokesperson Steve Wheeler
explained to media, after pressuring Benbrook, Texas, to hire
an ADC trapper for three months to kill coyotes.
Rosalie Gamboa of Villa Park, California, massmailed
a letter to the community decrying coyotes last August,
after a coyote dismembered her free-roaming cat.
“Our little pets deserve to feel the grass under their
feet,” Gamboa told the biggest crowd to attend a town council
meeting in at least two years. “”The idea of keeping them
inside just isn’t fair.”
Cat killings associated with coyotes caused a similar
furor this past winter in and around Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a
Milwaukee suburb––and apparently stimulated illegal leghold
trapping. Although Wisconsin is among the states with the
most fur trapping, legholds are barred from most communities
in the Milwaukee area.
Eventually Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel r e p o r t e r
Darryl Enriquez may have turned public sympathy by detailing
the plight of a coyote pup who suffered in an illegal leghold
trap for four days before a game warden dispatched him.
“Animal rights activists will drive you nuts,” an Ohio
emu and rhea rancher who didn’t want Columbus Dispatch
reporter Steve Stephens to use her name lamented recently,
after losing several birds. “You start killing coyotes, and
everyone and his brother will come out of the woodwork and
scream at you.”
That may be an exaggeration, but coyotes are beginning
to gain defenders beyond just Lila Brooks, whose 30
years of educational efforts on their behalf in the Los Angeles
area had much to do with the 3-1 decision of the Villa Park
council against harming coyotes, despite Gamboa, Romandy,
and their supporters. Instead, mayor Joseph Barsa urged more
care with pets and installation of better fencing.
New voices are stepping forth, including realtor
Mary Louise Beck, who addressed the Corpus Christi City
Council recently as representative of the Coastal Bend Wildlife
Association, after Padre Isles Property Owners Association
president Bob Southard called the ADC to exterminate coyotes
on Padre Island.
“The more I’ve been drawn into the situation,” Beck
said, “the more I’ve found we are dependent upon our friendly
coyote neighbors. They love to eat yummy rattlesnakes, they
love rodents, and I think they do us a great service by living
here. The same people screaming to kill the coyotes will be
upset,” she warned, sounding much like Brooks, “when they
find other little critters have moved into their neighborhoods.”
Stuart Chaifetz, hunting committee chair for the New
Jersey Animal Rights Alliance, may have staged the first
hunger strike for coyotes, fasting throughout a recent 17-day
trial coyote hunting season. New Jersey sold 900 coyote permits,
but only four hunters reported actually bagging any.
In Colorado, where for 100 years most ranchers have
held that the only good coyote is a dead one, state wildlife
commission member Louis Swift on January 11 denounced
coyote killing contests as “a thing of the past.”
And even Bureau of Land Management staff, not
exactly known as animal rights activists, objected in January
when the ADC proposed to kill coyotes to increase the number
of mule deer in the Book Cliffs region of Utah.
The growing coyote constituency was further evident
on April 15, due date for tax returns, as members of FoA,
API, and others protested against the ADC outside main post
offices in more than 60 cities.
One week earlier, Jasmine Pilling and the Reverend
Bennett Kilpack, of Half Moon Bay, California, held a wellattended
nondenominational memorial service for a year-old
female coyote, killed in mid-March when one Duarte Manuel
Coutinho set his two pit bull terriers on her. Police––who in
other cities might kill coyotes themselves––asked that Coutinho
be charged with two counts of cruelty. Apparently thinking the
issue was just having dangerous dogs, Coutinho surrendered the
two pit bulls to the Peninsula Humane Society for euthanasia.
He told investigators that he turned them loose because he was
afraid the much smaller coyote would attack him.
To be sure, coyote bites are on the rise, with six
reported since last July 16, when a coyote seized and dragged
three-year-old Miles Matthews as he played Frisbee with his
six-year-old sister at the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve near
Palo Alto California. Three weeks earlier, a coyote––apparently
the same one––stole a woman’s shoe at the same spot.
Though it wasn’t clear that either incident was anything more
than ordinary canine play, since the coyote who dragged the
boy apparently made no effort to bite his throat or stomach,
two coyotes were trapped and killed nearby.
A few days later, two coyotes snatched a fish from a
teenaged male angler at Yellowstone National Park. One bit
him when he tried to grab the fish back from the other, tearing
his pants and inflicting a mild scratch.
In Benkelman, Nebraska, an uncommonly aggressive
and possibly rabid coyote bit a 40-year-old female jogger.
But the next incidents didn’t come until late winter.
On February 16, a 40-pound coyote inflicted deep facial cuts
on four-year-old Lauren Bridges in obvious attempted predation,
trying to bite her throat as she played in the snow near
South Lake Tahoe, California. Her father, Steve Bridges,
pulled the coyote off. A police officer shot the coyote at the
scene just minutes later.
Two more attacks came April 13 and 15 in
Scottsdale, Arizona, where lone coyotes attacked a sevenyear-old
boy and a three-year-old boy. Both coyotes were
killed, both had nearby dens, both had apparently been fed by
humans, and in each case the bites were apparently defensive.
The killing of the coyotes brought “almost overwhelming
public criticism,” said Arizona Game and Fish
spokesperson Randy Babb, who took the opportunity to decry
the feeding. “You’re killing these animals with kindness,”
Feeding coyotes was the prelude to the first entry in
the ANIMAL PEOPLE coyote incident log: in 1981 a family
in Glendale, California put out food every day at the same time
to attract a wild coyote close to their house for easy viewing.
The coyote learned to visit at just that time to take the handout
from one of the parents. One afternoon the youngest daughter
in the family, age three, stepped outside alone to see the coyote––who,
not knowing her, made the obvious mistake. The
coyote put her down when her father yelled and gave pursuit,
but too late; she was dead of a broken neck.
That girl is to date the o n l y human ever verifiably
killed by a coyote anywhere, ever. Contrast that to the record
of domestic dogs. There are approximately 5.5 million coyotes
in the U.S., and upward of 54 million domestic dogs. In the 16
years since the Glendale coyote killed the little girl, domestic
dogs have killed an average of 22 people per year, according to
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pit bull terriers
kept as pets have killed or maimed 180 people, and pet
Rottweilers have killed or maimed 81, but just 21 free-ranging
coyotes are known to have even bitten anyone, including the
six last year. And many of the coyote attacks over the years
have plainly been provoked.
In 1989, for instance, a Nova Scotia 12-year-old was
bitten after cornering a coyote in a fenced yard and chasing her
with a motorized wheelchair.
In 1990, a cross-country skier was bitten in
Yellowstone National Park after barreling into the coyote––who
never saw him coming––on a steep downhill stretch, and
falling on top of her.
In 1991, two Vermont hunters were bitten in separate
incidents after spending all day close to coyote dens.
These were each the only verified reports of humans
bitten by coyotes in those respective years.
More humans kill themselves or other humans while
trying to kill coyotes each year than are bitten: at least four in
1996, including two ADC staff who crashed on an aerial gunning
mission. Yet since the Glendale fatality, the first, last,
and only time a wild coyote killed anyone, humans have killed
approximately 3.5 million coyotes.
It’s time, Feral says, to stop excluding coyotes from
full humane consideration.