In recent years, hunting and fishing tournaments have come under fire by “animal rights” organizations who don’t like the idea of animals being taken for a prize or reward. These groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Project Coyote, have been organizing against tournaments by petitioning state governments and supporting legislation to ban hunting and fishing tournaments, despite the positive impact tournaments have on local economies and the role sportsmen play in conservation.
Predator hunting and hunting tournaments, often referred to as “contests,” are time-honored traditions that have recently been subjected to extensive scrutiny by the anti-sportsmen’s community and misinformed general public. Across the nation, both practices serve legitimate and effective purposes towards fish and wildlife conservation efforts. Hunting tournaments are effective management tools of varmint species, such as coyotes, whose overabundance results in increased human-wildlife conflicts and attacks. Unfortunately, predator hunting and hunting tournaments have both been misrepresented by “animal rights” organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and Project Coyote, that have been spreading emotionally-driven misinformation to the general public, elected officials, and state fish and wildlife departments, seeking the ultimate goal of completely eliminating predator hunting and hunting tournaments.
Over the past decade, the traditions of predator hunting and hunting tournaments (also referred to as “contests”) have been the focal point of relentless attacks by animal rights groups, such as HSUS, PETA, and Project Coyote. These organizations often argue for the compensatory breeding of predator species, the elimination of hunting tournaments, and they by and large subscribe to the belief that the futures of certain predator species, such as bears, cougars, coyotes, and bobcats, are in perilous risk. These groups continually petition elected officials and state fish and wildlife departments to consider banning the hunting of predators, prohibiting hunting tournaments, and restricting certain methods of take. In so doing, these animal rights organizations rely on emotionally-driven arguments and citizen-science – both of which completely disregard the beneficial effects that sportsmen have on state and local economies, and the critical role that sportsmen play in providing the necessary funding for the conservation of all species through the American System of Conservation Funding.
Most predator and varmint species do not have natural predators, and as a result, their populations are proliferating – not decreasing to the point of extinction, as some animal right groups often claim. Species such as coyotes are no longer only found in their natural ranges; coyotes once only roamed the American west, but are now found throughout the United States, including urban America. The devastation caused by a lack of predator population management, especially through hunting, can be seen through the reintroduction of wolves in the west and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wolf population numbers substantially increased and exceeded the original recovery objectives set by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Resulting from provisions in the ESA, the wolves were to be delisted and authority over these predators was to be turned over to state agencies, who are undoubtedly better equipped to make the necessary management decisions. However, lawsuits brought on by animal right groups resulted in a delay in the handing over of the management authority. During this time, elk and black-tailed deer populations also declined while waiting for the state agencies to gain control over wolf management, and these species are still suffering the consequences today. From an ecology and conservation standpoint, predators cause a high rate of fawn mortality. County and state governments cannot afford to put money towards predator control, and as a result, predator hunting is a substantial option to assist local authorities and protect residents. Predator control measures put forth by these governmentsare also unpopular in urban and suburban settings, as a result of these areas leaning towards the preservation of these species.
Animal rights groups also argue for compensatory breeding, incorrectly stating that predator hunting results in the alpha males of a pack or a predator species being harvested. They claim that this allows menial members of the population to mate more often, leading to more offspring being born. Compensatory breeding is outdated idea that is not easy to accomplish in nature, as a result of genetics and mutations in cells.
A misnomer that anti-sportsmen commonly spread is that participants in hunting tournaments are not required to abide by wildlife regulations, which could not be farther from the truth. State fish and wildlife agencies regulate virtually all aspects of predator hunting, including but not limited to the season length, hunting hours, and methods of take. In preparation for hunting tournaments, sportsmen and women must first purchase any necessary licenses, and they commonly also buy additional hunting-related equipment, such as firearms and ammunition – which contributes to the American System Conservation Funding. Hunting tournaments are particularly effective management tools for localized issues of overabundance of predator species which may lead to a variety of human-wildlife conflicts. It has been proven that short-term removal mechanisms, such as tournaments, can provide immediate relief to farmers and ranchers by helping reduce livestock losses due to varmint attacks.
Points of Interest
- In 2014, California became the first state to implement a hunting tournament ban for nongame mammals including coyotes, foxes and bobcats. After several failed attempts to ban the contests in the state legislature, animal rights groups turned to the California Fish and Game Commission, who voted to ban these recreational tournaments.
- In 2015, animal rights activists pushed strongly for hunting contest ban in Nevada, but the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners rejected the petition.
- Several additional states (AZ, CA, MA, NM, and VT) have outlawed hunting tournaments in recent years. In 2019, the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted in favor of prohibiting hunting tournaments for predators at the onset of the 2020 hunting season. Similar efforts in Minnesota failed, and hunting tournaments remain legal.
- Contrastingly, several states have tried to implement more predator hunting to keep populations in check. In 2019, Michigan introduced SB 366 to expand hunting license rights to hunt bobcats, while in 2020, Utah enacted HB 125, which increased the number of permits for cougar and bear hunting.
- Utah’s Department of Wildlife collects coyote pelts after hunting contests to ensure that these events are aligned with the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and that all animals are taken for a “legitimate purpose.”
- In 2019, Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Board voted against a provision to end coyote hunting throughout the state.
- California enacted AB 1254 in 2019, which limits the hunting of bobcats to only those with a special depredation permit.
- In 2019, Washington enacted HB 1516, effectively outlawing the use of dogs to hunt bobcats, bears, and cougars.
- In 2019, New Hampshire failed to pass an HSUS-driven bill (HB 442) that would have closed coyote hunting for a portion of the year.
- South Dakota enacted HB 1181 that created a bounty system to keep coyote population in check.
- South Carolina introduced legislation (HB 4317) in 2019 that attempts to accomplish a similar goal.
- In 2020, several states introduced bills to eliminate hunting contests, including: New York (AB 9775), New Jersey (SB 1176 & AB 3654), Maryland (HB 863), New Hampshire (SB 588) and Oregon (HB 4075).
- In early 2020, California introduced (SB 1041), legislation that would make it illegal for hunters to use dogs to hunt bobcats, bears, and cougars.
Wildlife management decisions should be guided by the best available science and be undertaken by those best equipped to make them – the state fish and wildlife agencies. Predator hunting and tournaments represent unique ways for sportsmen to participate in the great outdoors, advance conservation of our natural resources, and further contribute to local economies and the American System of Conservation Funding.
For more information regarding this issue, please contact:
Joe Mullin, (202) 253-6883, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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