Let's Put a Bounty on Stupid


What is more stupid than bailing the ocean? Paying someone to bail the ocean.

Yet it seems the Utah Legislature thinks that’s a good idea. Worse yet, Utah lawmakers are co-opting the state’s sportsmen to pay for this folly. If you are a sportsman anywhere between Alaska and Arizona, watch your wallet. This trend ain’t contained to the Beehive State.

A pseudo-conservation group, Sportsmen For Fish and Wildlife, is spearheading biologically bankrupt anti-predator schemes that are guaranteed to waste millions of dollars and undermine legitimate wildlife management.

SFW includes some great folks who are honestly concerned about wildlife, but SFW leadership is snookering them.

This spring, the Governor of Utah signed a pair of bills that would (1) raise the cost of a hunting license to hire five coyote hunters scattered across the state and (2) put a $50 bounty on coyotes killed by the public. SFW brags about promoting coyote control, but the sad fact is, these efforts are doomed to fail and waste millions in doing so.

Let me be clear: I have no problem with shooting coyotes. I’ve shot them and sold their pelts. What I am protesting is waste and dishonesty.

Coyotes are great breeders. To suppress a coyote population, one must kill 50-70 percent of coyotes every year, forever. There is simply no way to kill enough coyotes to make a difference with a $50 bounty and a team of five coyote shooters spread over Utah’s 85,000 square miles. It’s as if Louisiana hired five guys with flyswatters to control mosquitoes.

Now, predator control is sometimes necessary in modern wildlife management. But Utah’s plan is the reverse of how it should be done -- it’s indiscriminate, broad-scale and scientifically untestable. Sportsmen of Utah should be outraged their license dollars are being squandered this way.

Utah isn’t the only state where Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife is whipping up its membership with these cock-eyed anti-predator schemes.

Montana’s Bitterroot Valley is another example. The local elk herd there has crashed, probably because of a mix of hard winters, predators, overhunting of female elk by people, and loss of winter habitat to subdivisions.  SFW hoodwinked the local county commission into writing its own predator control plan, rife with illegal tactics like baiting black bears and ignoring the fact that county commissions have no legal authority over wildlife.

Something needs to be done in the Bitterroot, but SFW’s tactics serve only to confuse, not address, legitimate public concerns. The idea of Montana managing its wildlife county-by-county (there are 56 without a wildlife biologist between them) defies common sense.

SFW’s greatest anti-predator fiasco is in Alaska. There, they worked to appoint a thoroughly unqualified director of the state wildlife agency named Corey Rossi. Rossi and his SFW allies thoroughly gutted the laws regarding bear management, under the pretense of killing predators to grow more moose.

Alaska rolled back fair-chase rules about hunting bears with the aid of helicopter transport, introduced snaring for both black and grizzly bears and approved the killing of females with cubs.  Rossi was forced to quit when he was charged with violating bear hunting laws, before his team had gotten around to dismantling them.

A hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt demonstrated the idea of good sportsmanship by refusing to kill a bear caught in a Mississippi trap. Roosevelt’s Legacy, called the North American Wildlife Model, has several provisions. Among those, wildlife belongs to everyone, not a privileged class; wildlife management is based in science; wildlife is not squandered wantonly.

Today, SFW is making a mockery of the Roosevelt Legacy, bankrupting America’s wildlife management in more ways than one.

Ben Long is an outdoorsman, conservationist and author in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director at Resource Media.

Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Apr 04, 2012 05:28 PM
I'm a native northern arizona guy and I've always HATED the war on coyotes. I've seen the helicopters with fat lazy hunters, the poison baits which seem to kill everything else, and through it all the coyote just laughs at us. When I was really young, in the early 1960's, I was taught that it was safer to ride my bike against the traffic, "because the cars will see you better". Now of course I know this is really stooopid, and not very safe at all. But I still occasionally see a not-very-bright individual riding their bike against the flow of traffic. My point is the same kind of clinging-to-old-timey-thinking applies to coyote eradication efforts. Many people in the West still want to believe that the horse-drawn stage coach and the hoop skirt are still relevant. From a range-management standpoint, coyote management is absurd. Coyotes do not prey on livestock. If you are a rancher and your cows are calving way out in the bush 'cause you're too stoopid and lazy to keep up with whats going on in your herd, you're gonna lose a solid %15 of your calves anyway. Your dead calves probably will be eaten by coyotes. More to the point, after you or the state has shot, poisoned, trapped most of the coyotes in your area, your rabbit population is going to explode, which will mean much less forage for your herd, which means you will spend a lot more money trying to feed them up to market weight. In summary, the war on coyotes is to me a symptom of cultural stoopidity by a group of people (ranchers) who really need to start thinking smart about how to make their business survive and thrive, and not constantly running to their political cronies for feel good stop-gaps that actually do nothing.
Sara Arkle
Sara Arkle
Apr 05, 2012 11:52 AM
Predator control has a pretty gruesome history in the West. Say what you will about Carter Niemeyer's book, Wolfer, but I was astounded at the approach to predator control during the 50s and 60s. We can do better than this - for the predators, for the prey, and for our own societal desires. The clincher? Appreciating and using science, reason, and rational decision-making.
Ben Long
Ben Long
Apr 05, 2012 01:53 PM
For some reason, the current debate over predators is particularly inflamed right now. Politicians seem eager to "do something" even when the something is outdated, wasteful and discredited tactics such bounties and bounty hunters. What we need is calm voices for common sense.
Ben Long
Ben Long
Apr 05, 2012 05:10 PM
Here's what Carter said on our Facebook exchange: "I've worked in the predator control profession for over 30 years and I can assure anyone who wants to know that bounties are a great idea for hunters and trappers because it is a subsidy payment to people who are already out killing coyotes anyway. It doesn't do any good except encourage fraud - bringing in coyotes from other regions of the country to cash in. And coyotes are very prolific, often having better reproductive success because of hunting pressure. If Utah has money to give away then I guess they can afford a bounty but it isn't going to buy them any success."
Maybe those fiscally conservative Utah Legislators should have asked him first...
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell
Apr 05, 2012 05:58 PM
Often when I'm trying to understand a wildlife issue I read Aldo Leopold, his chapter on predator control at 23 pages is as relevant today as when he wrote it some eight decades ago.

A money quote from the beginning goes..."Some students of natural history want no predator control at all, while many hunters and farmers want as much as they can get up to complete eradication. Both extremes are biologically unsound and in many cases economically impossible. The real question is one of determining and practicing such kind and degree of control as comes nearest serving the interests of all fouir groups in the long run….” He had identified four groups with an interest in predators earlier, farmers, hunters, whacked out environmental groups, and trappers, (editorializing mine).

So no coyote control and causing extinction are both biologically unsound and maybe expensive. The question is what serves the interests of those four groups the best.

Do hunters in Utah think their money is wasted? Do biologists working for the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources? I've always heard hunting coyotees just before, during, and after the mating season does have a positive affect. I'd want to hear from a wildlife biologist with long years dealing with coyotes and hear what they think of a bounty. Would trappers like a bounty? Would ranchers mis some coyotes? Do "environmentalists" even care about what is now a smaller canine?

Carter has a book to sell, and can be read with regularity over on the forum of the anti hunting Western Watersheds.
Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Apr 05, 2012 09:04 PM
Wildlife populations are complicated things and predator/prey relationships more so in the context of drastically modified anthropogenic environments. Simplistic pronouncements and policies like the one Ben writes about are paeans to the simple-minded and as such, tend to be rather popular. What's next, a return to Compound 1080 as the next panacea for what ails hunting?

And have you noticed how much of the ire of 'sportsmen' groups is against predators and almost none is against much more pernicious problems like Chronic Wasting Disease and the impact of private game ranches on spreading diseases to wild populations? Or the damage caused by invasive feral pigs? Or the loss of habitat to expanding human populations?

My guess is that dealing with the latter issues doesn't appeal to western cowboy mythos that permeates some segments of the hunting community and hence is easier to ignore by those who regularly engage in battles of wits while only half-armed. Even Leopold admitted to regularly shooting wolves before his epiphany in the wilds of New Mexico because he was "young and full of trigger itch". If only the vast majority of the population would have a similar epiphany (and intellectually capable of recognizing it), we'd be better off in our decision making about wildlife policy.
Robert L Short
Robert L Short Subscriber
Apr 05, 2012 09:31 PM
Worst or nastiest thing I ever saw was the introduction of red mange by either the gov't or cattleman's association along the "lapland" of Kansas / Osage County Oklahoma during the mid 70's- what looked like giant naked chihuahuas were a common sight in the remote areas for awhile with during the winter months the poor creatures trying to crawl under houses and in a few barns hay barns. Don't think it did anything over all to the coyote population. yuck

Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Apr 08, 2012 09:05 AM
The crux of the issue for me, whether it is specifically predator control or larger issues of range management and land use planning, is that we in the american West are culturally in a state of arrested development, and frankly it is time to grow up! Technology and academics don't help either, usually they seem to gang up with whomever is paying them the most and then we're all using the latest gee whiz GIS imaging to play God on the landscape. Urban hunters need to understand that they are NOT competing with coyotes for rabbits and antelope, on that couple of days every other year when they are actually outside in the backcountry environment. Ranchers need to understand that coyotes are their friend: more coyotes=fewer bunnies=more grass=fatter cattle. I don't need a PhD in agronomy and an army of extension agents to understand this! Again, to me it really is cultural: we love complexity and our cultural genes still think we are in Connecticut (or Switzerland) in the 17th century. Ultimately I think this new alien landscape we inhabit WILL teach us, it will just take a hundred generations or so.
Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Apr 08, 2012 09:24 AM
On another note, I forgot to add that Indians throughout the West consider it very very unlucky, wrong and spiritually dirty to harm a coyote or to even touch a dead coyote. If a coyote turns around and looks at you, you better say your prayers 'cause that means some very tough times are coming..
Deb Dedon
Deb Dedon Subscriber
Apr 10, 2012 02:54 PM
Trying to eradicate coyotes is just pissing into the wind. They're smart, they learn fast. Imagine what we're teaching them.
Ben Long
Ben Long
Apr 10, 2012 02:56 PM
Yup. Money down a rathole. I look at it this way: there are philosophical arguments and there are practical arguments. We can disagree on the philosophical arguments, but should be able to agree that wasting money is waste and that is foolish.
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Apr 10, 2012 06:38 PM
I have to weigh in on the "philosophical," or ecological side. More and more studies are showing an overabundance of large prey species throughout the Northern Hemisphere, mainly because of the overkilling of prey species. There's no wolves in Utah, and likely none coming there any time soon. Ditto on grizz. That means a few black bears, whatever cougars are left in Utah, and coyotes have to fill the prey species hole.
Craig Roepke
Craig Roepke
Apr 11, 2012 04:18 PM
My brothers and I inherited the family farm on the Upper Peninsula not far from Lake Superior. In my younger years, I remember coyotes following right behind the mower when we cut hay, scooping up the field mice we disturbed. When wolves were introduced many years ago, they pretty much annihilated or ran the coyotes off. Two years ago I was talking to the US Fish and Wildlife wolf person. He said the adaptable critters had learned to avoid or otherwise deal with their larger brethren, had moved back in, and caused by far greater problems for livestock, people, and the stray poodle.
Ben Long
Ben Long
Apr 11, 2012 04:30 PM
Craig -- my biologists friends tell me that coyotes inhabited North America many, many years before either wolves or humans. My guess is they will be here when we are long gone. Crafty fellows, them songdogs.