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Howling over coyote carcasses

LAS CRUCES – The dumping of dozens of coyote carcasses in the desert outside Las Cruces rubbed a lot of people the wrong way – including hunters.

A Las Cruces coyote hunting group, New Mexico Desert Dogs, admitted it held the legal killing contest that netted 39 coyotes and two foxes but stopped short of revealing who dumped the animals out by the airport. The group’s co-founder defends the contests but decries the manner in which the bodies were discarded.

Still.

The way they were dumped showed little respect for an animal poetically described as a “song dog” that is often regarded as a pest by ranchers and others. Such killing contests, even of animals considered varmints, fly in the face of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that many hunters regard as their creed.

That model places a premium on protecting species while encouraging healthy habitats. It also holds that wildlife should be killed for a legitimate purpose only, such as for food or pelts or to protect property.

The issue of killing contests has divided sportsmen, John Cornell, president of the Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen, told me recently. Coyote calling, especially using hand calls, is a genuine skill and a sport, he said.

“On the other hand,” he said, “offering prizes for harvesting unlimited numbers of wildlife, whether it’s a protected and or unprotected species, it makes all sportsmen look bad.”

Among the coyotes dumped in the desert outside Las Cruces, only a few were skinned of their pelts.

Coyote carcasses lie in the desert outside Las Cruces recently. The carcasses are believed to have come from a legal coyote hunting contest that netted 39 coyotes and two foxes. (Lauren Villagran/Albuquerque Journal)

Coyote carcasses lie in the desert outside Las Cruces recently. The carcasses are believed to have come from a legal coyote hunting contest that netted 39 coyotes and two foxes. (Lauren Villagran/Albuquerque Journal)

As an unprotected species that flourishes in New Mexico, the coyote population is not counted by any state or federal agency.

What is known is that coyotes are incredibly adaptive, and some studies show that killing coyotes indiscriminately can actually encourage populations to increase – thwarting arguments that cutting down dozens at a time is no problem, or that doing so serves a legitimate management purpose.

Robert Crabtree, chief scientist of the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, said in a 2012 summary of research that “it cannot be overemphasized how powerfully coyote populations compensate for population reductions.”

In part because of intense, historic competition with its mortal enemy, the wolf, coyotes developed numerous and diverse behaviors to survive.

After wolf populations were depleted nearly to extinction at the turn of the last century – before the rise of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation – coyote populations ran wild. Mass killing of coyotes in an area encourages “immigration, reproduction and survival of remaining coyotes,” Crabtree writes.

Here’s why, he says:

• Lone animals or packs quickly move into an area that has been vacated of coyotes.

• Surplus food in a vacated area stimulates larger litter sizes and higher pup survival rates.

• Indiscriminate killing of adults prompts an increase in the percentage of breeding females.

• Continuously reducing coyote populations keeps the population in a younger, more productive state, curbing the natural limitations of an older-aged population.

Hunters who participate in killing contests could point to these facts and argue that, because it’s so hard to deplete the coyote population, what’s the harm in a contest? But hunters who adhere to the ethics of the North American model can’t get past the killing for killing’s sake.

“I know the coyote population isn’t hurting anywhere,” Cornell told me. “You’re never going to kill enough of them. It’s the distastefulness of killing anything for blood sport and then throwing it in the public’s face.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Lauren Villagran in Las Cruces at lvillagran@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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