MassWildlife seeks to ban hunting contests targeting certain animals

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Massachusetts wildlife officials seek to prohibit hunting contests for coyotes, amid criticism of the practice. The proposed measures also cover other furbearers such as bobcats, foxes and raccoons.

The proposal, which MassWildlife presented at a Fisheries and Wildlife Board meeting last week, also calls for prohibiting the "wanton waste" of any wildlife during hunting and trapping season and setting new reporting requirements for fox and coyote harvests. Wanton waste means the intentional killing of wildlife without retrieving animals for consumption or other use.

The hunts are already banned in nearby Vermont; there are similar hunts based in Pittsfield, Hyannis and Granby. According to Eagle archives, Dave's Sporting Goods in Pittsfield sponsors a coyote hunt in March; owner David Benham was away from the office and could not be reached for comment.

Carole Dembek, an animal rights advocate and licensed wildlife rehabilitator who has spoken out against the contests in Hyannis, said she is "very pleased with MassWildlife's decision to ban wildlife killing contests," and added that she is "particularly gratified" that MassWildlife went beyond her advocacy group's request in extending the ban to all furbearers.

Massachusetts classifies coyotes, red and gray foxes, mink, beavers, bobcats, river otters, muskrats, fishers, raccoons, opossums, weasels and skunks as furbearers.

"Other states have banned wildlife killing contests, and that's ultimately what we wanted," Dembek said. "So I think that we're all particularly gratified that they listened to the public.

California, Arizona and New Mexico have passed bans on coyote, predator or furbearer contests, and other states are considering the move.

"This is a national issue, and MassWildlife has now put themselves in a position to be in a leadership role, so I think that's really important," Dembek said.

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Dembek also praised MassWildlife's recommendation to prohibit "wanton waste."

The recommendation prohibiting wanton waste "would require hunters and trappers to make a reasonable effort to retrieve game animals for consumption or other use," according to MassWildlife.

This regulation would not apply to animals, known as problem wildlife, that pose a threat to public safety, health or property. Landowners can legally kill wild animals that are in the midst of attacking another person, pets or livestock.

Tom Anderson, president of the Fairview Sportsman's Club in Granby, declined to comment, citing a need for more time to read and familiarize himself with the recommendations.

Anderson said the club began holding the contests in an attempt to control the local coyote population. Members had noticed "a dwindling number of turkey, rabbits, pheasants, and deer" in the area, he said, and two members had issues with coyotes attacking their chickens.

Those opposed to the coyote-killing contests have called the competitions inhumane and say such events are ineffective in controlling coyote populations.

About 9,500 to 11,500 coyotes are present in the state, according to MassWildlife estimates. Around 400 to 750 coyotes been hunted annually over the past decade, accounting for less than 10 percent of the population.

Hunts that take place have "no detrimental impact on the coyote population," according to MassWildlife.

Dave Wattles, a black bear and furbearer biologist with MassWildlife, said coyote levels might temporarily decrease locally after a hunting contest. But he said that after a contest, the coyote population will rise to its previous level within a year.


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