By E.M. Fay
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.
Mainly carnivorous, coyotes are opportunistic eaters,
hunting for food both nocturnally and diurnally. Their
preferred diet is small mammals, but they will also eat
ground-nesting birds, lizards, amphibians, insects and berries,
and will scavenge the remains of animals that other carnivores
have killed. Coyotes are very beneficial to the eco-system
wherever they live, and particularly helpful to humans, as they
help keep in check populations that cause harm to man’s
agricultural pursuits and even personal health, including
various insects that could completely consume the crops we grow
for ourselves. And coyotes do no harm to the general
environment, as, say, pesticides do.
everyone appreciates the coyote. Some ranchers fear for
the safety of their livestock, even though scientific data shows
that coyote predation on young sheep or cattle is not a
significant factor. And householders in semi-rural, suburban,
and even urban areas point to occasional instances of a pet cat
or dog supposedly having been gobbled up by a coyote as a
danger, even though simply not leaving one’s pets unattended
outdoors will eliminate this threat in nearly all cases.
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 a
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 accidentally. 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.”
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.”
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.
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 ecological issues.
“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
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.”
Powell described 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.
“The ranching community has co-existed with native
wildlife for hundreds of years; Native Americans have for
thousands of years,” Powell concluded. Just as with humans
who are struggling to keep going in difficult times, “Wildlife
is barely hanging on, too. Another problem for our
wildlife is introduced species such as feral hogs. Being
attentive to sound land management includes protecting our
native species. It is critically important when the whole
system is under the extra stress of a long-term drought.”
In spite of these problems, Commissioner Powell is grateful for
the understanding and assistance of the people he works with and
for. “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
Speaking out against the contest is just one
small facet of the work that Powell and the dedicated staff at
the State Land Office are doing to try to keep New Mexico a
sustainable, wholesome place to live. 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.
The Land Office has an
educator who works with teachers around the state, utilizing
trust land to teach schoolchildren about the natural world.
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.
program 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.
Creating as much transparency and accountability as possible is
a high priority for Commissioner Powell. As he told us,
“The higher we set the bar, the better it will be for the people
who come after us.”
We at Wildlife Watch
appreciate Commissioner Powell’s views on the coyote issue, and
hope that his courage in speaking out will embolden other public
officials to denounce coyote hunting 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
New Mexico has beautiful wild landscapes for
Wildlife Watchers to enjoy legally and peaceably. Despite
recent struggles with drought and fires, there is still much
that is worthwhile to see and do in the Land of Enchantment.
We encourage our members to visit this unique part of our
nation, and Commissioner Powell indicated that “the welcome mat
is always out” during his elected term at the New Mexico State