Conflicts, Contests, Coyotes
(Reprinted from above link)
A public listening session held in Buckland on coyote management, coyote hunting, and hunting contests recently got my attention.
The presentation, by Dave Wattles of MassWildlife, explained how coyote hunting was legalized in Massachusetts in 1982 and the state now has some of the strictest coyote hunting regulations in the country. We’re also one of the few states not offering year-round coyote hunting. He explained that coyotes are natural, territorial predators capable of “self-regulating” their population, while staying balanced with their prey.
As he spoke I was laser-focused on how this, and the current coyote hunting season, might help with the population. The speaker was quick to point out that this session was not about controlling coyote populations, it was a listening session about the season, and concerns relating to future regulations. It also served as a lead in for something I had no idea was happening in Massachusetts.
For the past several years, coyote hunting contests have been gaining attention. Due to public out-cry, MassWildlife started holding listening sessions. The first session was held in Barnstable on April 4, with standing room-only crowds. There, animal rights activists and environmentalists encouraged the state to stop the contests, particularly on Cape Cod, as residents were irate over the contest’s advertisement campaign, implying, “these contests were a blight on the community, not in keeping with Cape Cod Spirit.”
Thankfully, the meeting in Buckland on May 9 was different, but still filled with opinions, which eventually drifted into hunters vs. landowner’s rights discussions. Something I know a little bit more about … unlike coyote contests, which I know nothing about other than New Hampshire allows them, but for some reason they were discontinued in Vermont. I’ll leave the rest for people with more wisdom than I on such matters. But expect more on this soon.
Landowners and hunting are something I’m intimately familiar with, having juggled the two my entire life. I don’t own lot of land, so I depend on the land of others, which means landowner relationships are paramount to my existence as a hunter. I work hard to keep relationships solid by respecting the land and the issues of landowners. That’s the bottom line for me. And I get a little prickly if I sense others are jeopardizing this.
Most places I hunt are owned by people who don’t. I’ve learned that their viewpoints often overlap those of sportsmen, who value wildlife and support conservation. A recent survey in a neighboring state showed 91 percent thought it important that opportunities for hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing existed. That was up from 80 percent in 2001.
Interestingly, 81 percent of hunters and 86 percent of anglers supported the protection of threatened and endangered species, up from 37 percent in 1995. This staggering statistic illustrates that education is working. Yet, finding common ground on this issue, rather than people feeling disrespected, digging in their heels, and becoming polarized, is slow to surface. And at the end of this session I left thinking that landowners and hunters need to come together in a civil state, respectfully communicating under an umbrella of conservation. Because soon the future of our wildlife will depend on it.
Today, many people want coyotes controlled because of their impact on domestic livestock, pets, and deer. This is not hard to understand, as rural residents are less accommodating to coyotes then urban dwellers. Yet, the general public’s attitudes towards coyotes are more positive today than they were 30 years ago. Not surprising, as coyotes have minimal impact in other areas of Massachusetts. Encounters are usually by chance or as a pest rather than a threat.
However, as coyote hunting gains in popularity, significant conflicts between hunters, landowners, and the non-hunting public will continue. Listening to landowners from Leyden the other night, it was apparent that their unpleasant experiences have led to desperation and confusion. Yet, their compassion for at least trying to understand other viewpoints was genuine. So, how do you shift attitudes after so much has gone down? Does time, education and understanding help? Or has too much damage been done? Can those who care about the future of wildlife, on both sides, build a bridge? Can we work to understand that regulated, legal, fair chase hunting or trapping (not poaching) are not putting species at risk?
But other threats absolutely are. Such as wide-scale habitat loss, climate change, and invasive species that threaten wildlife populations every day. Dwelling on issues that have no long-term effect on sustainability is counterproductive. Can’t we work together on problems that really matter?
Hunters can start right here in Franklin County by trying to find common ground with landowners. I’m telling you, Franklin County is still small enough to foster “face to face” conversations that build trust, if not agreement, on puny issues that cause conflict. We can start by approaching landowners respectfully. Talk to them, and if they allow access for hunting, be respectful of that. If a landowner tells you they don’t want hunting on their land, then don’t hunt on their land. It’s that simple.
I’d like to think that thoughtful, respectful, and civil dialogue — even in disagreement — can still be found. This takes work. I don’t expect anyone to apologize for supporting the right to hunt, fish and trap. Yet we must recognize and respect the rights, personal values, or beliefs of those who don’t. Its MassWildlife’s responsibility to balance the interests and needs of Massachusetts citizens. They have long recognized that wildlife management is, in large part, people management. And they care about both sides of the issue, while trying to make sound decisions based partly on public input. To that end, I welcome these meetings seeking input on policies and rule-changes.
Yes, at times they’re redundant and lengthy. But they remain critical to the success of all species in the Commonwealth, both great and small. Just as critical is the message they give by showing respect for all landowners, non-hunters, and hunters, while recognizing that wildlife has an intrinsic value that is critically important to all who love and seek the outdoor life in whatever form they choose.
Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and outdoorsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, consultant and active member of the New England Outdoor Writers Assoc. Joe is also a member of the Quaker Boy Game Calls, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's Pro-Staff.