Hunters kill predators, squelch voters’ rights

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2000:

“I read in our local newspaper about the shocking and barbaric third annual Midwestern Coyote Calling Championship, held in January in St. Francis, Kansas,” wrote Nancy Lee, of Boulder, Colorado.

“As I know how committed you are to the welfare of animals, I’m hoping you’ll want to publicize this atrocity,” Lee continued. “If we let the powers that be in St. Francis know that decent citizens won’t put up with this kind of slaughter, maybe they’ll reconsider holding it next year.”

Added Louise Wilson Davis, in the letter to the Boulder Daily Camera that alerted Lee, “Perhaps St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, would like the name of this town to be changed.”

Coyote Calling Championship contestants killed 138 coyotes, said Davis.

This is actually only one of hundreds of animal-killing contests held each year, including many other coyote massacres, pigeon and prairie dog shoots, “buck pools” in which the prize goes to the person bringing in the biggest, and the perpetual trophy hunting competition that is central activity of Safari Club International.

But hunters scarcely welcome real competition, from creatures who must hunt to eat. Thus hunters perennially seek bounties on wild predators. For example, while surveys indicate that most Virginians think deer have become too plentiful and a nuisance, three Virginia counties––Lee, Tazewell, and Scott ––in January 2000 put $50 bounties on coyotes to boost the numbers of deer available to human hunters. Through mid-February, 203 bounties were paid.

Ironically, killing predators usually has little effect on the abundance of prey, not that hunters often accurately read the evidence. In Utah, for instance, Sportsmen for Wildlife president Don Pay recently lauded the “success” of a five-year-old predator-killing program in raising the numbers of elk, deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep in seven of the 15 “hunting units” where predators were killed. Yet the ungulate populations did not increase in the other eight units, and all the results could be ascribed to chance.

Hunters and ranchers organized as the Central Idaho Wolf Coalition are campaigning to reverse the 1995 reintroduction of wild wolves to Idaho; hunters lead the opposition to wolf reintroduction in New Mexico, and proposed wolf reintroduction in Maine, New York, and Oregon; hunters are lobbying hard to reinstitute wolf hunting and trapping in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming; and hunters also lead the opposition to the attempted lynx restoration underway in Colorado, although hunters and trappers would be among the big beneficiaries if the reintroduction keeps lynx off the U.S. Endangered Species List.

The Washington state house of representatives on March 3 approved SB 5001, effectively reversing the 1996 initiative ban on hunting pumas with dogs––which was ratified by 63% of the electorate. Endorsed by Governor Gary Locke, SB 5001 had already cleared the state senate.

Hunter fear of predators is most evident in Alaska. Within just over a week, February 28-March 8, state legislative committees repeatedly approved constitutional amendments to bar wildlife-related initiatives from the state ballot and to declare that the primary use of wildlife should be as meat for humans. The hunter-controlled Alaska house also rejected Governor Tony Knowles’ appointment of wildlife photographer Leo Keeler to the state Board of Game because Keeler said he would not support killing wolves to make game more abundant without seeing evidence that it was necessary.

BEAR MASSACRE

The Board of Game meanwhile authorized hunters to increase the number of caribou shot in the Fortymile district from the 1995-2000 limit of 150 to 850 by 2006; lengthened the wolf-trapping season by a month; doubled the wolf bag limit in the McGrath area from five to 10 a day; and authorized hunters in that area to shoot black bears on sight, if they salvage either their hides and skulls or their meat, until June 1. Nursing cubs whose mothers are killed will be left to starve in their dens.

At least two regional tribal councils unilaterally offered bounties on wolves.

Alarmed that polls repeatedly show heavy public opposition to killing predators for hunter benefit, hunters are moving in many other states to exclude the non-hunting public from any role in wildlife management.

Contest killing was banned in Arizona in late 1999 by the state Game and Fish Commission––but the governor’s Regulatory Review Council on February 1 overuled the ban. On February 4 and March 1, the hunter-dominated Arizona house of representatives twice recommended a constitutional amendment to require that wildlife-related ballot measures must receive two-thirds of the vote. Utah adopted a similar amendment in 1998, while Michigan barred voters from having any say in wildlife management.

The Virginia senate on March 1 approved a “right-to-hunt” amendment to the state constitution, which if ratified as expected by Governor Jim Gilmore will go before the voters in November. Alabama and Minnesota voters have already approved similar measures. The Wildlife Legislative Fund of America is trying to pass “right-to-hunt” and voter disenfranchisement amendments in every state before the balance of voter opinion tilts decisively against hunting, as demographics indicate might happen within another decade.

At the federal level, a coalition led by the WLFA on February 23 asked President Bill Clinton to issue an executive order reiterating a 1995 proclamation, echoed in the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge Reform Act, that hunting is a “priority use” of public land.

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