Those who spent $19.95 on one of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's cuddly replicas of "Copper the Coyote," a mascot for the 2002 Winter Olympics, could have gotten the little guy for free. Or, at least in exchange for gunning down a real coyote and sending its ears to local county officials.
The Olympic mascot has brought some unwelcome attention to a bounty program sponsored by the state of Utah and its counties. A few years ago, the Legislature authorized $100,000 in annual matching funds for counties for the purpose of keeping Utah's coyote populations in check. The program pays hunters $20 for each pair of coyote ears.
"It's hypocritical for a state which is going to welcome the world to pay people to kill its mascot indiscriminately," says Craig Axford of the Utah Environmental Congress.
Even some state biologists criticize the coyote hunt, saying it's unlikely to protect deer and livestock from coyote predation. Mike Bodenchuck of the Utah Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services points out that his agency targets certain breeding pairs at particular times of the year. "It's very surgical," he says.
In late January, days before the organizing committee was about to celebrate the one-year countdown to the Games, the Utah Environmental Congress organized a rally outside the Utah State Capitol to protest the bounty program. The congress' executive director, Denise Boggs, demanded that SLOC President Mitt Romney put pressure on state leaders to stop the bounty.
Romney has not responded, and SLOC spokeswoman Caroline Shaw argues that the coyote bounty has little to do with the Olympics. "This is not an Olympic issue," she says. "The mascots were created to connect children with the Olympic Games."
Copyright 2001 HCN and Tim Sullivan