Doug Hawes-Davis replies

  In his criticism of our new feature film, Killing Coyote, Russ Mason is only defending his life's work, which is understandable. Mason states that "film shot by NBC was used by Hawes-Davis to portray "....tightly bound coyotes being injected with the latest birth control potion," after being "... dragged from its pen." " The first part of this statement is incorrect. We used no footage from NBC. All of the footage in Killing Coyote of the Logan facility was shot by myself and Dru Carr in September 1999. The second part of the statement is correct. It is clearly and honestly shown in the film that the animal was, as Herring states, "tightly bound and dragged from its pen." However, the animal in question, according to the veterinarian who was examining it at the time, was not the victim of animal rights "terrorists' as Mason would like readers to believe. Rather, it was the loser in a fight between it and another coyote defending its territory in the same 8'x4" kennel. Whether the "potion" injected in the coyote was sedative or birth control is irrelevant.

Our intent was to show how these animals are handled when they are examined. The researchers were not injecting coyotes with birth control that day, so we shot what they were doing. Regardless, Hal Herring's views on how the animal was handled in the film are his own. No one in the film says anything about how the coyote was treated. Killing Coyote, like all High Plains Films, has no narrator to bias viewers' opinions of what they see and hear. Nevertheless, the handling of the coyote in the kennel was disturbing to Herring as it has been to many viewers of the film. Mason's objection to Herring's visceral response to this particular scene misses the larger point of the film. Herring states in his review that the film focuses on the "slowly evolving relationship of humanity to the rest of Creation." In this case that relationship involves the activities of Wildlife Services as well as coyote hunters, ranchers and others.

Whether or not the current research at the Logan facility is focused on non-lethal methods is irrelevant. Wildlife Services widely uses many lethal methods of predator control, including M-44 cyanide traps, leghold traps, "call and shoot," and aerial gunning, among others. Certainly, they continue to work on perfecting these methods. While Mason's current job description may be to work on the development of nonlethal methods of predator control, he works for a federal agency whose methods of control are predominately lethal. During our interview with him, Mason offered us a much deeper understanding of the history and philosophy of his agency. While he quotes himself from the film, "We fail a lot, but that doesn't mean we're going to stop" and claims this statement was taken out of context, he did not hesitate to volunteer general information on the activities of Wildlife Services.

In nine years as a documentary filmmaker, I have interviewed representatives of dozens of government agencies. In that time I have never encountered an agency as obsessed with its public image as is Wildlife Services. Mason criticizes Herring for claiming that we were the first journalists to film the Logan facility. He is obviously correct. The agency's public relations staff sends everybody there and steers them clear of the more common lethal-control methods. When I read Hal Herring's review, I realized immediately that he had misunderstood how I described our visit to the facility in a phone interview. What I said to Herring is that, as far as I knew, we were among the first to film inside the coyote kennels. Mason was extremely reluctant to allow us in the kennels, because, as he told me, "journalists usually misrepresent what they see." This is really the issue here. Mason doesn't like what he sees in the film. Perhaps he doesn't like looking in the mirror.

Doug Hawes-Davis
Missoula, Montana

Doug Hawes-Davis is an independent filmmaker.

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