Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Apprehensions abound over proposed coyote hunting regulations
Last week, this column listed the proposed new Massachusetts coyote hunting regulations. For a review of them, click onto https://www.mass.gov. The state Fish Wildlife Board voted 6 to 1 in favor of forwarding them for public hearing. Only board member Robert Durand opposed the motion, because the board had not yet been provided with the parameters of the regulation.
He had other issues, too. He pointed out to the board that most states won't touch "wanton waste" — which means to intentionally waste something negligently or inappropriately — because it is hard to enforce and leaves interpretation of the law up to the discretion of law enforcement. He noted that the state of Maine excludes coyotes from their wanton waste provision and the Vermont commissioner said at a legislative hearing that wanton waste regulations are fraught with peril.
Board member Brandi Van Roo is reported to have said that banning coyote hunting contests means standing up for a core value of the organization (DFW). But Durand reminded the board that the core constituency are the sportsmen and women of the commonwealth, who pay for MassWildlife, and yet they continue to put in more regulations that hurt this constituency.
"If it's not broke don't fix it. While I have tremendous respect for the (Department of Fisheries and Wildlife) staff, they too can get it wrong. I believe this is the case," he said. Bob is not alone in this belief.Durand is no babe in the woods when it comes to environmental and sportsmen's issues. He formerly served as the state's executive secretary of Environmental Affairs from 1999 to 2003. He is highly respected in the sportsmen community and his opinions carry a lot of weight.
Because of the four listening sessions held across the state (none of them in the Berkshires, by the way), sportsmen knew that coyote hunts would probably be banned. What they didn't know was that they could be made lawbreakers (wanton waste segment) for doing what they believed was a good thing — reducing the numbers of the coyotes, thereby giving the deer, snowshoe hares, partridge and other critters a better chance for survival.
Sportsmen are aware of wanton waste and are taught the importance of ethics in the basic hunting education course. Of course, hunters shouldn't shoot a duck, deer or other game animal for no reason and leave it in the woods. Give them credit for that at least. But when it comes to predators, that is a different matter. If hunters see a pack of coyotes chasing a doe and her fawn, for example, chances are good that they will take steps to protect those deer. I suspect that they are not about to stop their day in the field to drag the animal out and check it in. If the state is going to ban coyote hunts, then ban them, but don't make criminals of the well-intentioned hunters.
The term of "wanton waste" is usually associated with edible food — deer, ducks, pheasants, rabbits, etc. In the coyote example used above, it is doubtful that hunters consider that wanton waste, because they killed that animal for a reason — to save another animal. Perhaps many, if not most, hunters would agree with that. I personally don't believe the coyote hunts came about for any reason other than to relieve the deer herd from being decimated. Any prize winnings are negligible.
I am not a lawyer, but if I was, I would have a field day in court arguing this wanton waste issue.
So how does one sell the notion of wanton waste to the public? That's easy. Tell them that the deer population doesn't need the help from the hunter; that coyotes don't adversely affect the herd, that coyotes don't chase down and kill healthy adult deer. Well, try telling that to an experienced hunter or someone who owns or lives near a field and frequently sees the carnage for themselves. Our observations in the woods and fields yield different conclusions than the DFW's.
MassWildlife seems to have a handle on the numbers of deer and coyotes that are in the state. They feel that the coyote populations are stable, healthy, and abundant, with an estimated statewide population of between 9,500 and 11,500 animals. They estimate that there are 95,000 deer in Massachusetts (probably the vast majority of them are in the eastern part of the state, where hunting is not allowed in some towns). Each year, tens of thousands of antlerless deer permits are issued there to try to control the herd size. There aren't those kinds of numbers here in the Western District, especially in Wildlife Zones 2 and 4.
But when it comes to the estimated number of fawns born each year, DFW is mum. All that is said is that annually, biologists estimate that coyotes kill about 20 to 30 percent of them. That is meaningless unless you know how many fawns are born each year. Does a herd of 95,000 produce15,000 fawns each year? I don't know, but DFW should. Assuming it is 15,000, then are we talking about a coyote kill of 3,000 to 5,000 fawns a year? Could it be that DFW doesn't want to shock the general public with such numbers of fawns killed? Then add the kills made by bears, which may also be quite high, and the kills of adult deer and you are talking some high numbers.
And what about the coyote's effect on the snowshoe hare population. They have nearly been decimated here in the Berkshires. Many hunters believe that there is a direct correlation of the rise in the population of the coyote to the decline of the hares.
I have particular concerns of coyotes attacking my beagles while rabbit hunting — it has happened on three separate occasions over the last 30 years — and sought clarification from board member Steve Sears. His understanding is that if I shoot a coyote after my dog, I am protecting my property, which the regulations permit. I hope he is right.
But, according to DWF Western District Supervisor Andrew Madden, if I shoot a coyote trying to chase down and kill a deer and/or a fawn, it is legal to shoot it, during the combined coyote and deer hunting season, but it must be removed from the woods and checked in, with an explanation as to what I will do with it.
And what if I didn't report it and left it in the woods? What are the penalties? I see no mention of them in the proposed new regulations. Will there be financial penalties? Will my gun be confiscated? My FID card?
After the board voted to go to public hearing, DFW Director Mark Tisa was quoted by the Worcester Telegraph-Gazette as saying: "The proposed regulations would make the State one of the leaders in banning hunting contests." The article did not say that he was only referring to coyote hunts. My immediate concern was about the bunny hunts that we have here in the Berkshires. The general public may not be aware that the rabbit meat from these hunts is not wasted, but rather brought home to eat or donated to an organization such as the Adams Outdoor for Youth, that puts on game suppers in order to raise funds to support youth programs.
On two occasions, I emailed Tisa to see if he was misquoted or wanted to clarify that statement, but to date I have received no response. Could the bunny hunts be the next target? Big buck contests? And later fishing derbies?
Space does not allow me to express more concerns regarding this proposed regulation. There is supposed to be a public hearing sometime in September with a date to be announced. I encourage sportsmen to weigh in on this whether or not they hunt coyotes.
One parting comment of this subject. A former high-ranking state environmental official commented to me that George "Gige" Darey, the longtime chairman of the Fish & Wildlife board, would be "turning in his grave" over this.
There is no question that Gige was a strong advocate for the coyote, fighting hard to not allow year-round hunting of them (unlike some neighboring states) and supporting DFW's findings. The lively, monthly discussions between him and Berkshire County League of Sportsmen board member Robert McCarthy, who is not a big fan of coyotes, were legendary, with neither giving an inch.
But Gige also had a very high regard for the outdoor sportsmen and always had their backs. He fought hard to protect their rights. He was particularly proud that he had their trust.
I've got to believe that he would have handled this coyote issue much differently.
The Lenox Sportsmen's Club will host a LTC - Utah and Multi State Firearms class on Aug. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. If you, or someone you know would like to register for this class, contact Tom Nadolny at email@example.com or 413-822-6451.
The Berkshire Hatchery Foundation in Hartsville-New Marlborough is having its next free children's fishing derby on Saturday from 9-10:30 a.m. at its lower pond. Children aged 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
Gene Chague can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-637-1818.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.