A member of Nevada’s Wildlife Commission is joining the call for an end to coyote killing contests, a practice that rewards the participant who slaughters the most animals.
Neighboring states California and Arizona are among the growing list outlawing the practice.
New Mexico banned the contests in 2019.
“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of our agency or our wildlife to be known as the only state that allows it,” Wildlife Commission member David McNinch told the Current.
For now, Nevada is not alone in its wanton pursuit of coyotes, who thrive in the state’s wilderness and in suburban development that has increasingly encroached on their habitat.
Utah’s state-sanctioned predator control program rewards participants with “up to $50 for each properly documented coyote that they kill in Utah.”
The wily carnivores are reviled by city and rural folk alike — for plucking pets from yards and attacking livestock corralled like sitting ducks.
McNinch represents conservation interests on the nine-member NDOW board, which includes hunters, ranchers and farmers from across the state.
“We had a petition probably six or seven years ago. We didn’t take action at the time. I think it’s time to talk about it again,” McNinch says. “Times are changing, to be quite frank, and for me I’d like to see us move away from killing contests.“
The Reno-Gazette Journal reported in 2015 that only Wildlife Commissioner Karen Layne voted in favor of the petition.
“The problem that I see with these contests is that they are wholesale slaughter,” Layne said at the time. “It’s just going out and killing whatever comes.”
McNinch says he’s heard “an increasing sense of urgency” recently from people who want to end the killing contests and has asked to have the issue placed on the agenda.
Chairwoman Tiffany East says the item should come before the Wildlife Commission soon, though she doesn’t know whether it will be informational, in which case staff would collect background for the commission, or an action item, which could initiate the rulemaking process.
Earlier this month, Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones announced his intention to bring a resolution before the commission.
“This is not a prohibition on hunting in any way,” Jones said, adding the action puts the Nevada Department of Wildlife on notice “that Clark County, the most populous county in Nevada, that we oppose the competition hunts…”
“I reached out to NDOW (Nevada Department of Wildlife),” Clark County Commissioner Jim Gibson said at the same commission meeting. “I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t take action on this. This is something they could manage.”
“In the past few years, more than 24 wildlife killing contests have occurred in Nevada, including in and around Clark County, with four hosting their weigh-ins and ‘celebrations’ in Las Vegas and Henderson,” activist Shelbie Swartz told the county commission. “The killing happens across the entire state, with participants encouraged to kill” on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands.
“To the extent these contests reflect on the overall hunting community, public outrage with these events has the potential to threaten hunting as a legitimate wildlife management function,” Kurt Davis, a member of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, said in 2019.
“It’s very contentious,” says State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, who represents a vast swath of rural Nevada. He was one of two Republicans on the Senate Natural Resources committee who opposed a 2019 bill that would have outlawed the contests.
“We were divided,” Goicoechea says.
So divided, in fact, the other three members of the committee, all Democrats, could not hold their caucus and pass the bill out.
“Sen. (Chris) Brooks didn’t support it,“ Committee Chairwoman Melanie Schieble told the Current. “I don’t like to hear bills I know are not going to pass. ”
Brooks did not respond to requests for comment.
Gov. Steve Sisolak, whose chief of staff, Michelle White, is married to Brooks, did not say whether he supports a ban on the killing contests.
“If you start hunting coyotes in an urban area, I can see where that’s a problem,” says Goicoechea.
He also agrees culling the herd may not be an effective control measure.
“It’s proven and documented, those females will produce two litters instead of one,” he says, calling coyotes “very adaptive, very smart animals.”
Ranchers and farmers often call them pests.
“The harvest of coyotes is on a sustained yield basis,” says Sen. Ira Hansen, the other Republican on the Natural Resources Committee in 2019. He says coyotes reproduce “far beyond the need to replace those that die.”
“Almost all animals do and that is the reason we can harvest literally millions of big game, upland birds, furbearers, etc. year after year after year,” Hansen wrote via email. “That is the basis of professional Wildlife Management programs.”
“If we have to exterminate all the native species in order to ranch, then we probably shouldn’t be ranching,” says predator-friendly rancher Becky Weed in a video produced by ProjectCoyote.org, an organization working to end killing games.
In 2019, opponents of coyote killing contests, hoping to dry up prize money for the events, argued to Nevada gaming regulators that the contests violate gambling laws.
“These contests are not the same as fishing derbies and tournaments, or golf tournaments,” Fred Voltz wrote to Nevada Gaming Commissioners on behalf of the Nevada Wildlife Alliance, Animal Wellness Action, No Bear Hunt Nevada and the Humane Society of the United States.
Gaming commissioners rejected the effort to ban the killing for prizes.
“Their focus seemed to be ensuring the maximum fundraising capabilities for various non-profits through gaming-related activities, even when it involves 18-21 year-olds who cannot bet money in games of chance at Nevada casinos,” Voltz said.
“The participation in these games is not a ‘gambling exposure,’ but rather an opportunity to assist in the preservation of this State’s natural resources,” Tony Wasley, Director of the Department of Wildlife (NDOW), wrote to gaming regulators at the time.
Wasley told the Current he was not referring to the killing contests, but rather the ability of youth to take part in conservation contests.
“The Department of Wildlife and the State of Nevada depend on monies raised from these organizations’ innocent and harmless events in order to more effectively protect, enhance, and restore wildlife and the habitats upon which they rely,” Wasley wrote at the time.
He has not responded to requests to elaborate.