Commentary: Make your voice heard, oppose coyote lottery

If you enjoy wildlife but have never spoken out in defense of it, now is the time. Coyote killers are trying to convince you, your neighbors and the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors to allow a privately funded killing contest, euphemistically called a “coyote lottery.” At 2 p.m. Feb. 7, there will be a town hall meeting in the Woodstock Municipal Building to consider this unethical and misguided proposal. I encourage everyone who respects wildlife to attend and speak out against this coyote lottery.

The fact that this slaughter would be privately funded does not make it right. The state of California, which has far more coyotes than Virginia, recently outlawed all wildlife killing contests. The president of California’s wildlife commission, Michael Sutton, stated, “Such contests are an anachronism and have no place in modern wildlife management.” The New Mexico legislature is considering a similar ban.

Coyote killing cannot be classified as “hunting.” No one is putting coyote meat in the freezer. A coyote lottery is for those who enjoy the thrill of the kill.

The Fort Valley resident proposing the Shenandoah County lottery claims coyotes are making inroads into the whitetail deer population. Huh? Tell that to farmers, gardeners and landscape architects who daily battle the expensive destruction caused by deer. County Supervisor Marsha Shruntz, also pushing for the privately funded lottery, declares “Forget about the state, forget about the Feds and forget about the county.” Huh? Wasn’t she elected to work for Shenandoah County? Encouraging residents who take joy in killing animals is not in the county’s best interests.

As for livestock owners concerned about predation, these farmers already get taxpayer-funded help from the USDA, as the Northern Virginia Daily reported.

Scientists know that coyotes extended their range naturally into Virginia 40 to 50 years ago. They should be reclassified as a native species and afforded some protections. These highly intelligent 25-40 pound canines help ecosystems. While they occasionally will take a fawn or sick deer, their diet is mainly rodents, insects and carrion. Coyotes also eat smaller carnivores such as skunks, opossums and raccoons, which prey on birds. America’s native “song dogs” avoid humans and though you may hear their chorus at night, you will rarely catch a glimpse of these shy animals.

Pet owners who supervise their animals and walk their dogs on leashes, who don’t allow their cats to wander and who keep their pet food inside rarely have confrontations with coyotes.

Yet coyotes can be hunted, trapped and poisoned in their dens year-round, day and night, much like America treated its wolf population 150 years ago. No reason must be given by coyote killers for their abuse, as coyotes have no legal protections in Virginia.

Prolific whitetail deer, by contrast, are afforded a hunting season. Deer are so abundant across rural America that they kill more humans than any other mammal [in traffic accidents]. Hunters no longer consider the numerous deer in our backyards to be a challenge. For those who love killing wildlife, the coyote is the animal du jour.

Money spent on coyote killing contests would be better used to educate farmers about nonlethal methods of protecting their livestock: cleaning up carcasses immediately, installing good fences, adopting sound husbandry practices and incorporating night corrals, guard dogs, donkeys or llamas in their herds. Other residents and business owners need guidance on best practices such as removing food sources by only placing tightly covered trash outside on collection day.

Wildlife management decisions should be based on science. Coyotes mate for life. The random slaughter of a bonded pair often results in rampant breeding when new transient coyotes enter a territory. The result of these bounties and lotteries may well be more coyote pups, rather than fewer.

Nearby Warren County, with its coyote bounty, may be creating more coyote pups that also travel to Shenandoah County. Don’t make the same mistake. Turn out for the town hall meeting and quash the proposed private coyote lottery. Otherwise, these wildlife killers and their dogs may be hunting day and night in an area near you.

Becky Pomponio is the Florida and Virginia representative of Project Coyote, a national organization that promotes coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.