Nevada officials hit impasse over coyote killing contests
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — After years of attempts to devise rules on coyote killing contests, a policy has yet to materialize in Nevada, where Department of Wildlife commissioners said last week that they are getting less hopeful about finding a solution that hunters and conservationists accept.
Hunters in the contests use dogs, scopes and rifles to kill the most coyotes, sometimes for prizes. Unlike predators such as gray wolves or prey species such as elk, coyotes have no species protections and can be killed without licenses.
The coyote debate often mirrors other disputes in the West over how to manage populations of predator species like wolves and bobcats. Hunting communities worry they eat too many deer and elk. Ranchers tell horror stories about livestock being targeted. Suburban pet owners stress about their dogs or cats being seen as tasty predator snacks.
Some states like Utah and South Dakota offer bounties for coyotes to control their population. Coyote killing contests have been banned in at least eight states since 2014, including Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, which in the past rotated hosting the World Championship Coyote Calling Contest with Nevada.
The yearslong debate in Nevada reemerged in March when the Clark County Commission called for an immediate ban.
Last week, state Department of Wildlife commissioners informally surveyed meeting attendees, hoping to find middle ground between tournament advocates and their opponents. The survey asked participants to rank priorities including “social perception of hunting,” “wanton waste” and “tradition/heritage,” and floated ideas like public notices, bag limits or licenses.
The effort resulted in an impasse after both sides made it clear regulation wasn’t a desirable outcome, frustrating members who warned that inaction would result in the issue landing in the state Legislature.
“I was optimistic that we could get different constituencies in to help us really dissect this and learn where there may be some common ground. But after today, I’m being honest, I don’t know that we’re any further along than I had hoped,” Chairwoman Tiffany East said in a commission meeting last week.
Unlike the nine-member governor-appointed commission, which state law requires have five residents with hunting licenses, the Legislature is dominated by urban Democrats from the Las Vegas area who mostly do not hunt.
Activists have been pushing the commission for a ban since 2015. In the state Legislature, a ban proposal from Sen. Melanie Scheible, a Las Vegas Democrat, stalled before getting a hearing in 2019 and was not reintroduced in this year’s legislative session.
Contest advocates see attempts to regulate coyote hunting as a gateway to further hunting restrictions. They argue it’s both hobby sport and useful “predator control,” culling the population to manageable levels to protect livestock.
Representatives of the community advisory boards that report to the commission said it made more sense for hunters to remove overabundant predators free of charge rather than have a state agency do it.
Robert Boehmer of Carson City said a local rancher told the board that upwards of 40% of his sheep herd had been killed by predators, and that recreational hunters helped manage their population and protect his herd the following year.
“The fact that we are paying for folks to go out and control predators, and we have a group of folks that are willing to do this at no cost seemed like pretty like a pretty good deal on our end,” said Jim Ray of Washoe County.
Opponents draw distinction between predator control and contests and say removal via tournaments is too random to effectively manage species population and downplay the dangers to people and livestock. They have cited science that suggests population management efforts spread the population and increase the reproductive rate for coyotes.
A coyote has not killed anyone in Nevada in a century and, in 2020, none of the coyotes tested by the state agriculture department had rabies, the department said Wednesday. Coyotes are seen by many scientists as vital parts of ecosystems like the Great Basin — maintaining nature’s balance, eating small rodents and ensuring foraging herbivores don’t degrade vegetation and damage the landscape.
Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada State Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, called the tournaments “brutal slaughters,” said they were antithetical to fair-chase hunting norms and criticized the commission’s efforts to reach compromise as misguided.
“Right now, the state at least has the plausible deniability of saying there’s no specific rule against them, even if the state doesn’t specifically sanction them. Regulating these sick contests would give them the sanction of the state — a seal of approval from the people of the state of Nevada,” he told the commission. “If your intent is to put this issue to bed, regulating these contests will have the exact opposite effect.”
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.