The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
New Mexico's Elected Land Commissioner says: Ban Coyote Killing Contests
Includes Interview with NM Land Commissioner Ray Powell
Dr. Ray Powell
Coyotes are among the most far-ranging mammals on the North American
continent. They can be found from Alaska to Mexico, and virtually
everywhere from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. Nearly ubiquitous in
the United States, these intelligent, social, wild dogs – canis latrans
– are unfortunately also one of the most maligned of native species.
Wildlife Watch has long been an advocate for coyotes,
recognizing equally their intrinsic value as individual beings and their
essential place in a healthy natural environment. Therefore, we have
been deeply disturbed by the indiscriminate killing of coyotes for whatever
reason; but it is especially appalling when the motivation is a commercial
enterprise that encourages the wanton taking of life just so someone can win
In November, a gunshop owner in Los Lunas,
New Mexico, advertised a coyote-killing contest as a promotion.
Whoever could bring in the most dead coyotes would win either a 12-gauge
shotgun or two semi-automatic rifles. Carole Altendorf, a citizen
concerned about the proposed slaughter of innocent coyotes, started an
online petition, asking that people write to local officials to stop the
contest. Altendorf noted that the contest sponsor would not reveal
where the hunt was to take place on public land throughout New Mexico, which
could put people who were lawfully on the land at risk of being shot
Over 5000 persons eventually signed the petition, but
the contest was not cancelled.
Another voice was raised against the contest, making several cogent points
as to why it was a bad idea. New Mexico’s elected Land
Commissioner, Ray Powell, M.S., D.V.M., made a statement (quoted on November
15th in the Albuquerque Journal) explicating the situation:
non-specific, indiscriminate killing methods, used in this commercial and
unrestricted coyote-killing contest are not about hunting or sound land
management. These contests are about personal profit, animal
cruelty, and the severe disruption of the delicate balance of this desert
ecosystem. It is time to outlaw this highly destructive activity.”
In addition, Commissioner Powell pointed out that “The
participants in this commercial and unregulated exploitation of wildlife do
not have a permit or lease to be on State Trust Lands.”
author spoke with Commissioner Powell, he explained some of the New Mexico
Land Commission’s responsibilities. The Land Commission safeguards and
manages some 13,000,000 acres of land, all of which is held in trust for 22
beneficiaries. Virtually all of this land is leased to agricultural
and other enterprises. Monies from the leases go to beneficiaries
which include: public schools, universities, and hospitals, including
schools for the blind and deaf population.
In order to have access
to state trust lands, permission is required. As trustee, the Land
Commissioner works for the public beneficiaries, so if anyone wants to use
state land, they have to compensate the trust for that use. The
store owner who sponsored the coyote-killing contest noted above had not
applied to use the land for this purpose. Nor was any application made
to the Bureau of Land Management to use the approx. 13,000,000 acres of
federal land that the BLM holds in trust. These facts show that the
contest organizer and his contestants were technically “in trespass” when
they used state land to kill the coyotes.
But there are more
significant reasons than the laws of trespass for opposing such contests –
issues of morality and biology.
Commissioner Powell is a
veterinarian. His doctorate in veterinary medicine from Tufts
University emphasized wildlife medicine. A native of Albuquerque, he earned
his bachelor’s degree in anthropology and biology, and his master’s degree
in botany and plant ecology, at the University of New Mexico. Before
being elected Land Commissioner in 2010, he worked with the world-renowned
scientist and humanitarian Dr. Jane Goodall at the Jane Goodall Institute
for Wildlife Research Education and Conservation. Powell also served
as State Land Commissioner from 1993-2002 and was President and Vice
President of the Western States Land Commissioners Association from
1996-1998, working closely with federal and state officials and Native
American tribal leaders to improve public policy on trust lands.
(Information courtesy of www.nmstatelands.org )
With this extensive
background in the natural sciences and land management, Commissioner Powell
is uniquely placed to explain with clarity the importance of preserving
native species such as the coyote.
Deploring the fact that
there has been an increase in the number of coyote hunting contests in
recent years, Powell confirmed his earlier statement that they are a clear
example of animal cruelty. He then elaborated on the important
“From a biological aspect, killing coyotes creates a
problem where there isn’t one.
The biological importance of
coyotes to a healthy eco-system is affected negatively by this kind of
unregulated, random killing. Especially as New Mexico has been in a
severe drought situation since 1998, many agricultural families are hanging
on by their fingernails.
Even in a non-drought period, there is a
limited amount of grass. Grass is the ecological engine for
agriculture, so it is disastrous if it is eaten up by the larger populations
of mice and rabbits, etc., that occur when coyotes are killed off. And
naturally, during the current long-term drought, there is much less grass to
begin with, so maintaining balance by letting the coyotes do their “job” in
the food chain is even more vital.
Most members of both the
agricultural and hunting communities do not see [the contest] as a wildlife
management issue. They recognize that it is a commercial enterprise –
about winning prizes for indiscriminate killing. They are
opposed to that abuse of wildlife. The overwhelming response
from both communities to this has been opposition.”
other ways that coyotes are of great benefit to hard-working farmers.
Coyotes live and work in family units. They are territorial and
protect their patch of land from outsiders, i.e., younger, more
aggressive coyotes. When people co-exist with their local coyotes, the
coyotes defend that land from interlopers who are more prone to take
vulnerable newborn farm animals. Conversely, destroying a settled
coyote family by random killing hurts not only the coyotes, but also the
agricultural community. Wildlife and humans across the board suffer.
Experienced hunters understand this fact of life, which is why they do not
generally support the contests.
Commissioner Power said, “We
are fortunate in New Mexico that we have a lot of really good people who
understand the issues. The vast majority of them look at this killing
contest as an aberration.”
Besides ensuring that 90% of the revenue
from leased state land goes to the public schools, the Land Commissioner
strictly monitors all use of the land to ensure it is kept healthy.
Healthy land is not only more productive for humans, but provides better
habitat for native fauna and flora.
In partnership with the
Department of Energy, Powell also established a 3000-acre nature preserve in
Albuquerque. La Semilla is the largest nature preserve inside a city in the
world, providing a haven for numerous species.
Another program of his is called Conservation Medicine – One Health.
Its concerns are healthy animals, healthy plants, and healthy people.
It’s about making decisions that are based on natural history and biology,
alongside commercial interests, and basing them on generational impacts to
the eco-system. This rationale includes banning commercial coyote
hunting contests. “They are anathema to productivity and the health of our
lands for future generations,” Powell said.
Wildlife Watch appreciate Commissioner Powell’s views on the contest
killings of coyotes, and hope that his courage in speaking out will embolden
other public officials to denounce killing contests and any similar cruel
activities, in any state. Such words and deeds may also inspire
legislators to ban these mindless pursuits, so that our wild friends have a
better chance to live their lives in peace.
Go on to
Recreational Hunting: Would You Kill Your Dog For Fun? and
Back to Winter 2013 Table of Contents
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