The controversial events, in which bodies of dead coyotes are stacked like cord wood, award prizes for the most animals killed. (Nevada Department of Wildlife photo).
The Nevada Wildlife Commission’s endorsement of coyote killing contests is proof the board is out of touch with the population it’s charged with serving, say opponents of the practice, which awards prizes to those who kill the most animals.
By a vote of five to four, the Commission killed a nearly year-long effort to end the contests, which are widely criticized by the public but popular among a segment of hunters and ranchers.
“I think it’s very disappointing and further evidence that the Wildlife Commission is not representative of Nevada,” Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones said in response to the vote.
“In my ethics as a hunter, I hope to defend a deeper and more profound sense of hunting than what I fear coyote contests say to the general public about hunters and our ethics,” Nevada Wildlife Department director Tony Wasley said in a rare, impassioned plea to commissioners to embrace a zeitgeist that increasingly values the ethical treatment of animals. “Hunters need to be conscious of the public image we project and the way in which the public perceives us.”
The proposal before the Commission would not have prohibited hunting coyotes, which are an unprotected species. It would have prohibited organizers from collecting entry fees, promoting events, and awarding prizes or rewards.
Wasley noted the “broad statutory charge” of NDOW is to act in the interest of “all 895 species and all 3.2 million people with a relatively narrow funding model…”
Wasley noted there is no biological evidence to support or condemn the contests, which neither threaten populations nor provide predator control.
“Contests do not and will not replace the need for strategic predator control for the benefit of other species, nor do they save the agency any appreciable amount of money,” he said.
He said hunters spend about $400 million a year to recreate in Nevada.
“That’s a huge economic contribution,” he said, adding that despite that contribution, only 2.35% of Nevadans are hunters.
“Increase that percent by 10 times and we’re still outnumbered by over three to one,” he said. “Our actions must be with the awareness of our broader societal relevance or societal irrelevance.”
Vice Chair Tommy Caviglia said opponents of the killing contests are a small but vocal minority and that most people are unaware of the contests.
“You don’t talk to them about it. And they don’t even care,” he said, suggesting the commission’s concern over ethics and public perception is overstated as long as hunters remain low-profile.
Proponents of the contests argued rural businesses are dependent on the events and urged the commission to conduct an economic study of the impacts of banning the contests.
“One or two days a year of killing contest participants in a given rural town will not make a material difference between a business’s or community’s economic survival or failure,” animal activist and contest opponent Fred Voltz noted during public comment.
He said regardless of the fate of killing contests “the anti-hunting side of the world” will still go to the Legislature. “That’s why this thing really bothers me.”
Jeff Dixon, Nevada director of the Humane Society of the United States, anticipates a ban “… in the next one or two legislative sessions. That depends on who wins a lot of races next year, not least of which is the governor. It shouldn’t be a partisan issue. In a lot of states it’s not. But for whatever reason, it’s more of a partisan issue in Nevada.”
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