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Environmentalists challenge aerial gunning program


Shooting coyotes from the air came under fire this spring. Twenty environmental groups sent a letter to Colorado Bureau of Land Management Director Ann Morgan demanding a halt to aerial gunning in the state until the agency studies its effects on wildlife.

"Aerial gunning needs to stop because of the biological impact and the cost to taxpayers," says Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, a Boulder-based conservation group.

Keefover-Ring said costs skyrocket because of plane and helicopter crashes. Four crashes have already occurred in the West this year, and Sinapu says in the last 12 years, it has documented 19 times that planes and helicopters have hit power lines, "collided with the ground" or cracked up due to engine failure. In that time, seven people died, and 26 were injured while shooting coyotes.

The federal Wildlife Services currently oversees predator control on all BLM lands (HCN, 4/27/98: Predator control gets out of control), but Keefover-Ring wants the BLM to take responsibility because, "it is their jurisdiction; they are federal land management." Her coalition hopes that a gunning ban in Colorado will lead the agency to stop it nationwide. "We're trying to set a precedent," she says.

Keefover-Ring says there are plenty of nonlethal ways to keep coyotes away from calves and sheep, using fencing, guard dogs, donkeys, llamas, sheds and strobe lights.

Craig Coolahan of Wildlife Services in Lakewood, Colo., says it's not so easy. "The simple fact is, many woolgrowers are already using guard dogs, and they are somewhat effective, but aerial gunning is necessary for what the herders can't do."

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Katie Oppenheimer