By Nolan Madden
A controversial hunting event scheduled this month in Holbrook has drawn the attention of a North American animal conservation organization, with the goal of putting a stop nationwide to a specific type of gaming, which it has termed “wildlife killing contests.”
According to Project Coyote, headquartered in Larkspur, Calif., the 2016 Annual Coyote Calling Championships is advertised as sponsored by rifle maker Specialized Dynamics, to be held in Holbrook Feb. 19-21.
The agency says that few Americans have heard of such events, but that they are sanctioned as legal throughout most of the United States.
Linda Bolon, a volunteer Arizona representative for Project Coyote, explained why the group is targeting the practice.
“Right now we’ve really heated up our efforts to bring public awareness of this across the country. These killing contests regularly focus on coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other predator species,” said Bolon.
On its website, coyotecontest.com, the sportsmen’s group lists prizes to be awarded for the Holbrook event, to include a $25 cash award for “big dog” or “little dog” prey sizes, as well as trophy buckles and customized hunting rifles.
“What’s interesting is that many sportsmen’s organizations claim that killing serves an effective wildlife management function,” Bolon noted.
“But these events are very contrary to that claim, because science has proven that the coyote populations that are not exploited through hunting and trapping actually form stable extended social structures.
“They are self-regulating, if you will. But what is happening is that these coyote-killing events are actually increasing the coyotes’ reproduction, not decreasing it. They think they’re doing a good thing, but they’re really not. They’re exacerbating the problem,” she said.
“What we’re trying to do is provide education to the public to let them know what’s going on in their community, encouraging them to speak up.”
Bolon cites a similar event hosted in New Mexico, which she says made headline news.
“After the coyote killings happen, and they do their weigh-ins, tagging and awarding of prizes, they walk away. They left 28 to 30 coyote bodies to just decay in the desert, and that brought headlines. It was just appalling.”
Project Coyote says that, 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 state in the nation to ban the practice for coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other species.
Kevin Bixby, Bolon’s colleague and executive director of Southwest Environmental Center in New Mexico, says that legislative efforts to ban the practice in that state received initial legislative support, but was later denied.
“A lot of these contests happen in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, probably because these states have a lot of public lands, mild weather, and because some people like to kill coyotes when the seasons are closed on animals like deer and elk. But the main reason is that coyotes have absolutely no protection in these states,” said Bixby.
He noted that other similar events are held nearby, such as the Santa Slay Coyote Tournament, which was last hosted in Flagstaff in December 2014.
According to Bolon, the Arizona Game and Fish Department “are well aware of this issue, but they have a different stance altogether.”
AZGFD Information and Education Program Manager Diane Tilton clarified, “Coyotes are a managed species, but they aren’t regulated, so with the contest that’s going on, it’s not something you would need a permit for.
“You do have to be a licensed hunter to hunt and participate in the event, so the standard laws would apply,” she said.
Tilton referenced the printed 2015-16 AGFD Hunting Regulations guide, available free at most outdoor sports stores, which lists coyotes among predatory and fur-bearing species cleared for hunting by legal methods of take, including trapping, archery, rifles and handguns, and pursuit with dogs.
Current Arizona Game and Fish Commission rules also prohibit the dumping of wildlife that have been legally killed, requiring sportsmen to take care to dispose of their lawfully taken carcasses so that they are not discovered by the general public.
Bolon has gathered 5,570 online petition signatures within the past two weeks, submitting it last week to Navajo County District III Supervisor Jason Whiting and urging him to halt the upcoming Holbrook contest.
The petition has also been sent to Gov. Doug Ducey, she says, requesting that he stop the event from taking place.
The petition states, in part, that “coyote-killing contests put non-target wildlife, companion animals and people at risk. A ban on coyote-killing contests in Arizona 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. Mr. Whiting, do the right thing! Put a stop to these disgusting events, starting in Holbrook.”
When asked about the contest and petition, Whiting acknowledged the concerns that it raises. “I can certainly appreciate that people have varying opinions on these types of issues. However, this is not something that is under county jurisdiction,” he said.
By Nolan Madden