Coyote bounties

Tom VeneskyVeteran hunters — those whose hunting memories date back several decades — often speak of the bounties that were placed on many predators and how they felt that was a big reason why small game thrived.

Offering a financial incentive for hunters to take foxes, bobcats, coyotes, weasels, and even owls and hawks was a way to keep predator populations in check, they said.
But was it right?

In the late 1960s, the last of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s bounties were phased out Raptors are now federally protected and predators such as foxes, bobcats and weasels are managed by the agency through trapping and hunting.

Now, after almost 50 years, bounties may be back.

The House Game and Fisheries Committee approved a bill (HB 1534) on Wednesday that would allow the Game Commission to enact a $25 bounty on coyotes.

Rather than use the word “bounty,” the bill calls the concept the “coyote control incentive program.” I guess that sounds more tolerable than bounty, but it’s still the same thing.

The author of the bill, state Rep. Michael Peifer, said his area of Pike County has a high coyote population that needs to be brought under control. By doing so, according to Peifer, public safety concerns would be addressed and the deer population would receive a boost.

That sounds fine, but I don’t believe that bounties are the most ethical way to go about managing the coyote population. And yes, even for a predator as reviled as the coyote, ethics do matter.

I also don’t think we should wage a war on coyotes in a desperate attempt to save the deer population. Yes, coyotes eat deer. How many? I really don't know. But I do know that coyotes are native to Pennsylvania.

Like it or not, they belong here.

Rather than harboring fears of coyotes killing all of the deer that we like to hunt, we should focus on management techniques such as hunting and trapping and not use a bounty as an incentive.

Peifer’s bill passed the committee by a 21-3 vote, and Luzerne County legislator Gerald Mullery (D-Newport Township) cast one of the "no" votes.

Mullery raised some interesting questions about the measure, including if deer and turkey hunters would be willing to give up their hunt and shoot a coyote for $25 if the opportunity arose.

When it comes to the first day of the rifle deer season, I’d say the answer is no. If I’m on stand and seeing deer, I’m not going to rattle the woods by taking a shot at a coyote, bounty or not.

Any day I spend hunting deer or turkeys is worth more than $25.

Mullery also asked another, more important question – is the intent to wipe out the coyote population?

Peifer referred to the wariness of the coyote and said he didn’t think that was possible.

I agree. But still, if that is the intent of the bill – to wipe out coyotes – then it’s an irresponsible approach. As hunters, we should never attempt to wipe out anything. We should, however, strive to manage.

Placing a bounty on coyotes really isn’t anything that’s not being done already. Coyote hunts offer bounties indirectly by awarding cash prizes for hunters who shoot one of the canines.

Such hunts are immensely popular and they are a great late winter activity. They are also an indicator as to why bounties on coyotes may turn out to be a fruitless approach.

The hunt held by District 9 of the Pennsylvania Trapper’s Association in Tunkhannock is a big event. It attracts more than 800 hunters who spend three days hunting in several counties here in the northeast.

How many coyotes do they harvest? Anywhere from 20 to slightly more than 50.

How effective will a $25 bounty be if hundreds of hunters concentrated in several counties over three days can only shoot several dozen? It goes back to Peifer’s remark about the wariness of the canine. Coyotes aren’t easy to hunt or trap.

Rather than take a step back in time with bounties, perhaps we should accept that coyotes are here to stay, they need to be managed in an ethical manner and yes, they are going to kill some deer.

That's the way nature works. 

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