Coyote hunt to go on despite criticism

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Call it a hunt, a cull, a kill. Call it whatever you want, just know it's going to happen.

At least that's what the Los Lunas business owner says about the controversial coyote hunt contest his store is sponsoring.

Mark Chavez, owner of Gunhawk Firearms, isn't backing down.

"This is an opportunity for the people of New Mexico to know there are still people like us — people who love to hunt," Chavez said.

The concept of the coyote hunt is pretty simple: multiple two-person teams will spread out across the state, hunting coyotes, and the team with the most carcasses gets its choice of either a one Browning Maxus 12 gauge shotgun worth $1,600 or two .223 caliber AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

The contest didn't originate with Chavez though. Last month, Calibers Shooters Sports Center in Albuquerque cancelled its two-day hunt after receiving angry calls and emails from around the country, so Chavez decided to step in and sponsor an event.

Almost immediately, the phone calls, emails and angry posts on the business's Facebook page started.

"We've been called 'murders,' been told basically we should be lined up and shot," Chavez said.

Comments and criticism have come from all over the globe, he said, from countries such as Spain, as well as residents of New Mexico.

"I hope killing coyotes compensates for your tiny penises and even smaller brains," wrote a Santa Fe man, who ironically works for a company named Live Ammo Films.

Another woman wrote, " … it is hard to communicate with bloodthirsty killers who have no other reason to live but than to torture and kill innocent animals …"

Another post seems to call for a "turn about is fair play" approach to the contest.

"Shame on you! Shame on you, New Mexico! The killing of coyotes for this contest is cruel and ridiculous. Why don't you have a sharp shooter contest intead (sic) and use hunters for target practice!" a woman wrote.

Online petitions calling for the hunt to be stopped are gathering electronic signatures from around the world. The petition on www.causes.com had more than 14,500 electronic signatures Friday morning and the one on www.thepetitionsite.com had 178.

While most of the comments, both for and against the hunt, center around the frequent conflict between coyotes and farmers and pet owners, Chavez sees a deeper motivation to the animal activists's protests.

"I think they have a hidden agenda. They are always looking for ways to stop industry. The gun business is a big industry and a strong one," he said. "We used to have logging and mining in New Mexico that brought a lot of jobs, but activists shut that down. I don't think these protests are against the coyote hunt. They are against guns."

A lifelong hunter himself, Chavez wondered just what the impact of the hunt would be on the state's coyote population.

"They will tell you themselves, when you go out and hunt coyotes, they change their behavior and reproduce more," Chavez said. "If anyone believes that this hunt is going to eliminate coyotes, well … this will barely scratch the surface."

That idea is one even the activists agree with.

Wendy Keefover, the director of carnivore protection for WildEarth Guardians, a nonprofit based in Santa Fe that works to protect and restore wildlife, wild places and wild rivers in the American West, says that killing coyotes does not result in fewer coyotes.

"Wherever there is a vacancy in the ecosystem, they will fill it," Keefover said.

"When their populations are exploited, more females breed, litter sizes grow, and coyotes immigrate from other areas to fill any vacancies," the release says.

However, that doesn't mean she and the organization are on-board with the contest.

"The whole premise is just wrong," Keefover said. "This is just a blood sport, completely disgusting."

Keefover said if the motivation for the hunt is to help ranchers prevent livestock loss, native carnivores such as coyotes, are "way down on the list" of causes of cattle and calf deaths.

According to a cattle death loss report released in May 2011 by the USDA, in 2010 cattle and calf losses from predators and non-predator causes nationwide were 3.99 million head, excluding Alaska.

Of those deaths, 3.77 million, 94.5 percent, were from non-predator causes, with respiratory problems being the leading cause at 28 percent, followed by digestive problems at 13.4 percent.

"Losses from animal predators totaled nearly 220,000 head, or 5.5 percent of the total deaths from all causes. Coyotes and dogs caused the majority of cattle and calf predator losses, accounting for 53.1 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively," the report said.

That resulted in a loss of $98.5 million to farmers and ranchers, across the country.

Motivation for the hunt aside, the activity is completely legal.

In New Mexico, coyotes are an unprotected species and hunts for them are unregulated by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Public Relations Specialist with Game and Fish Tanya Vigil said the department has received calls and emails expressing concerns about the hunt.

"What I've told them is, as a state agency, we have no authority over the hunt," Vigil said. "As a non-game, non-protected species, we don't regulate hunts like this."

Vigil said if nonresidents wanted to participate in the hunt, they would have to obtain a non-game license from the department if they were hunting on public lands. Residents can go out any time of the year to hunt unprotected species without a license, Vigil said.

Because coyotes are not a state or federally regulated species, Vigil said the department doesn't track population figures.

Marty Frentzel, the department's chief of information and outreach, said certain species are unprotected because they are typically viewed as pests.

"There's no good way to say that," Frentzel said. "Coyotes have survived everything that's been thrown at them, including the campaigns that go back to the early 20th century that significantly reduced the grizzly and wolves. Coyotes survived those efforts."

And while people may want the department to assist in controlling the animals, Frentzel says the department is not authorized to expend funds to manage coyotes.

"The Legislature has set the laws for what we spend money on and we follow those laws," he said."

Keefover said her organization has been working on an anti-trapping campaign in the state since 2009, and the group is currently in litigation with Game and Fish over the issue.

They are also going to the Legislature next year to ask for a ban on trapping on public lands, she said.

WildEarth Guardians was also part of the 1997 effort to get small game contest hunting, which included prairie dogs and coyotes, banned in Colorado.

"So, there is precedent," she said.

County Manager Bruce Swingle said he received one call on Wednesday afternoon from a resident expressing concerns about the contest.

Seeing several pros and cons to the hunt, Bosque Farms resident Judy Babcock says she would rather see the contest cancelled.

"One of the pros is farms and ranchers get free predator control. My question is are the shooters going to be given locations of complaints or is this a free-for-all?" Babcock said. "I find it worrisome that they may be hunting coyotes that are not accused of causing problems in an area, but just happen to live in those remote locations; that they will be hunted whether they've been predators to cattle or not."

As a gun owner and angler herself, Babcock said she has no problem with hunters who "eat what they kill. But to do this 'for fun' just goes against all ethics."

Tracey Kubitschek, a resident of Los Chavez, said she is opposed to the hunt on several levels.

"I think that if there is a predatory control issue, then a regulatory agency, such as Game and Fish, should be handling this," Kubitschek. "It's reckless and socially irresponsible to run a killing contest to address that issue."

Working as a clinical social worker, Kubitschek has concerns that go beyond the coyotes.

"Promoting this as a 'fun' or 'recreational' event, we do not need to send the message, especially to our youth, that killing is fun," she said. "At a time when school campuses are being shot up and there are shootings in public areas, this sends a bad message."

Chavez said he will require all hunters in the contest to register in person at the store, present a valid driver's license and go through an orientation the Friday before the weekend-long hunt, set for Nov. 17-18.

During the orientation, prospective hunters will be admonished to stay off game preserves and reservations, and to seek permission if they plan to enter private land, Chavez said.

While the hunt is open to residents across New Mexico, the Nov. 16 orientation in Los Lunas is mandatory, he said, as is the $50 entry fee and an agreement to abide by the rules.

Participants will have from dawn Saturday, Nov. 17, through 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, to collect and return coyote carcasses to an as-yet-to-be-determined location near Los Lunas.

For more information, call Gunhawk Firearms at 865-3500.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.