By Dan Paul / For The Herald
The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposal to ban wildlife killing contests statewide, which is now being considered by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, deserves the support of every Washingtonian.
These cruel and grotesque events glorify spree killing and have nothing to do with wildlife management or sportsmanship.
In a killing contest, participants compete for prizes — usually cash or guns — for killing the most animals, the largest animal or some other variant. At several of these gruesome events across the country, undercover investigators with the Humane Society of the United States have witnessed participants gathering to count and weigh the slaughtered bodies, pose for selfies next to piles of dead animals, collect their prizes and enjoy a celebratory drink. While fur buyers are present at some events, in most cases the animal carcasses are dumped after the contest.
Many of Washington’s killing contests target coyotes, a maligned and badly misunderstood native carnivore that is closely related to the canine companions who share our homes. Nearly 1,500 were killed between 2013 and 2018, which is both counterproductive and unfortunate. There is no credible scientific evidence that indiscriminate killing of coyotes will reduce their numbers in the long run, boost game species populations or curtail conflicts with livestock. In fact, research has found that the indiscriminate killing of coyotes disrupts their pack structure and can even intensify livestock conflict.
What’s more, the WDFW advises non-lethal deterrence measures such as fencing and guard animals to protect livestock, and points out: “Coyotes also benefit ranchers and other property owners by helping control populations of mice, rats, voles, moles, gophers, rabbits and hares.”
We’re fortunate to have a state wildlife agency that recognizes prevention as the best mechanism for minimizing conflict with coyotes and other wild animals, and one that comprehends their ecological importance.
Sadly, there are still hundreds of wildlife killing contests in other states, but there is encouraging progress. Since 2014, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Vermont have prohibited such events. These are good examples for us.
The WDFW has a lot to balance when it comes to the public interest on the majority of topics the agency is responsible for regulating. Its constituents include hikers, hunters, anglers, birders and many others with a range of opinions concerning wildlife and the natural environment. In truth, there is no single public interest, but rather different sets of separate publics with separate interests and separate opinions about what should be done.
Here, however, the way seems clear: Wildlife killing contests make no sense in the modern era, lacking credibility, scientific basis, practical rationale or broad support. They serve no legitimate practical purpose, they bring no honor or credit to the state’s hunting tradition, and they certainly don’t deserve to survive on the basis of ritual or entertainment. They are an ill fit for contemporary wildlife management in any state, but are a particular affront in Washington, whose residents enjoy and appreciate not only our state’s wild spaces but also the wonderful diversity of creatures that inhabit them.
And even the most dedicated advocates for hunting understand that the indulgence of such wanton cruelty poses a threat to the reputation of our state’s sportsmen and sportswomen.
We must hold ourselves to a higher standard of care and concern, and we commend Fish and Wildlife Commission Vice Chairwoman Barbara Baker for advancing the current proposal, which takes us in that direction.
These animals deserve better.
Dan Paul is the Washington state senior director for the Humane Society of the United States.