Coyote hunting competition ban moving toward House vote

Vermont could become the second state to ban coyote hunting competitions under a new bill approved by the House wildlife committee that would impose up to $4,000 in fines and 60 days in prison for people who organize or take part in the contests.

For years, activists have campaigned against "coyote tournaments," in which hunters compete for the most kills and the biggest prey. They have not found a receptive audience in the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, which says coyote populations are perfectly healthy even with the contests and an open season on hunting the animals.

Rep. Paul Lefebvre, R-Island Pond, who is among the chief proponents of the provision in bill H.636, a wide-ranging wildlife act that also includes new regulations on animal trapping, said the impetus for the coyote tournament ban was more social than scientific.

"We want to end the contests as a way of showing respect to the animals," he said, adding that he would personally like to see even more restrictions placed on coyote hunting. "I don't want an open season year-round."

Lefebvre said the bill had passed his committee 6-2 last week and would go through the House Ways and Means Committee before a full House vote that he expected next week.

The act would give the coyote "big game" status, meaning that offenders convicted of organizing or participating in coyote tournaments not only would risk losing their hunting license, but also would face fines of $400 to $4,000 and jail time of up to 60 days.

It defines coyote hunting competition as "a contest in which people compete in the capturing or taking of coyotes for a prize or recognition."

Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter said he took a middle ground on coyote hunting. The agency does not encourage "wanton" killing of coyotes, by issuing extermination permits or sponsoring contests, like some states, he said. But he also does not believe it needs to put in place particular protections, such as a competition ban or a closed season.

"We think coyotes are an important part of the ecosystem, but we don't usually make decisions not based on science," he said, noting that a report from his agency showed that coyote populations were "abundant and healthy" under existing laws.

Porter said there were only two or three "tournaments" in Vermont per year. He said the only other state with a coyote competition ban was California, and that no other states currently punish offenders with jail time.

A proposed ban on coyote hunting competitions in Nevada was rejected by the state's wildlife commission.

Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said legislators had come up with "a solution in search of a problem."

"It's not based on sound public policy," he said of the proposed bill, adding that he was also against a closed season. "The federation believes the law, as it exists now, is correct."

Some hunters have argued that they are part of a solution — controlling the overpopulation of coyotes, which have been blamed for declining deer populations — rather than a problem.

However, Lefebvre, the representative, said recreational hunters were among the supporters of the ban because the competitions created an overly violent image of the sport.

Hughes said that issue was a matter for public debate, not legislation.

Linda Huebner, a member of the Vermont Coyote Coexistence Coalition, was among the people who testified during a hearing on the proposal. She said she had spent a decade advocating for a bill protecting coyotes.

"I'm very happy about it," she said of the bill, adding that declaring victory would be premature, considering the wildlife department's past resistance to the measures.

"We've still got some distance to go before passing the bill into law," she said.


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