Coyote hunting contests banned in Vermont

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Vermont becomes second state to ban coyote contests. Photo by Christopher Bruno/Wikimedia Commons

Vermont has become the second state in the nation to ban coyote killing contests, following in the footsteps of California.

The tournament ban was included in a general fish and wildlife bill, H.636, which Gov. Phil Scott allowed to become law on Tuesday, but declined to sign.

Scott said he saw the ban as unnecessary and confusing, since coyote hunting remains legal in the state.

“This bill sends a mixed signal to hunters, farmers and landowners that hunting coyotes is a bad thing when, in fact, that activity is likely a major reason coyotes remain wild and wary of people, which keeps human-coyote conflicts to a minimum,” Scott wrote in a letter to the House clerk on Tuesday.

Scott called the bill an example of legislative overreach, and said the Fish and Wildlife Board, a 14-member governor-appointed board that votes on the state’s fish and wildlife regulations, would have been the appropriate authority for deciding upon and enacting a ban.

“Further, I am concerned that once the Legislature has taken this path, it will begin to revisit all other wildlife hunting and fishing competitions in the state,” he wrote. “These competition are enormously popular among sportsmen and encourage our Vermont youth to take part in permitted fishing and hunting activities.”

But, he wrote, “I am reluctant to veto this bill, as it does make significant improvements to fish and wildlife law.”

Vermont still has an open season on coyotes, dating back to the days when coyotes were considered “vermin” by white settlers of the state, according to a report prepared by Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter.

Porter said in an interview on Thursday that the department did not regard the ban as necessary from a wildlife conservation perspective. Coyote tournaments have not been nearly as popular in Vermont as they have been in other states.

Porter said that without another act of the Legislature, the Fish and Wildlife Board would not, in fact, have had the authority to ban coyote tournaments.

After two days of debate on the House floor last February, the possibility of a prison sentence for organizing or participating in coyote killings contests, was replaced by a fine of $400 to $1,000 for first-time offenders. Second-time offenders would face fines of $2,000 to $4,000.

Those caught participating in a coyote tournament would lose their hunting license for at least a year, depending on whether there had been previous wildlife offenses; organizers of tournaments would face longer license suspensions.

Brenna Galdenzi, president of Protect Our Wildlife, said her organization began to push for the coyote killing contest ban after learning of a statewide contest planned for last February.

“This isn’t hunting for sustenance – this isn’t taking an animal to eat it,” Galdenzi said in an interview Thursday. “This is thrill killing.”

Protect Our Wildlife and other activists succeeded in shutting down the February contest and in getting the Legislature to take up the ban.

Galdenzi said she had felt that convincing the Fish and Wildlife Board to ban coyote killing contests would have been a futile effort.

“If you’re not a hunter or a trapper, they don’t listen to you,” said Galdenzi. “They report to no one.”

Rep. Brian Smith, R-Derby, proposed an amendment to delete the coyote contest ban from the fish and wildlife bill in February. The amendment was defeated on the House floor, 100-38.

Smith said in an interview on Thursday that he felt the ban unfairly singled out one kind of hunting contest. The state allows organized turkey hunts, he said, and the Orleans Rod and Gun Club’s annual rabbit hunt also remains legal.

“The ban singles out a very small amount of hunters that enjoy going out and making a sport of it,” said Smith. “It’s not about watching the bloodshed.”

Galdenzi said her group is not seeking to ban competitions like fish derbies or deer pools. Protect Our Wildlife has already been contacted by activists in New Hampshire who want to ban their state’s coyote killing contests, she said.

Some opponents of the ban, like Smith, suggested that eliminating organized hunting of coyotes would have a negative impact on the state’s deer population. In the report prepared for the Legislature, Porter said that habitat availability is a far more significant factor in the health of the state’s deer population, as it is for other prey animals.

“Winter deer habitat is the ‘critical’ factor that limits and controls total deer numbers in the longer term,” wrote Porter. In addition to the ban on coyote contests, H.636 makes various improvements to state fish and wildlife laws including:

  • Allowing the commissioner to contract with consultants to conduct departmental research.
  • Clarifying terms under which the ANR secretary can convey, exchange, sell, or lease land on behalf of the department of Fish and Wildlife — to resolve trespass, boundary, right of way and deed issues, or for conservation and recreation.
  • Allowing the Department of Fish and Wildlife, in limited circumstances, to correct boundary issues with neighbors who live next door to department land.
  • Allowing retail outlets and others who sell fishing and hunting licenses also to provide customers with applications for lotteries for doe tags and moose permits.
  • Clarifying which animals cannot be transported into the state without department approval.
  • Requiring trappers to notify the Department of Fish and Wildlife within 24 hours of accidentally trapping a cat or dog.

Scott expressed dissatisfaction with the new trapping requirement, calling it “poorly written and unclear.”

“The Bill does not define whether this provision applies to wild types of cats and dogs, or only to domestic. Given that bobcats can, in season, be legally trapped in Vermont and given that coyotes may also be, this provision is problematic,” he wrote.

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