The photos are ghastly: piles of dead foxes and coyotes tossed in the back of trucks.
These cousins of our faithful dog companions are treated like vermin in wildlife-killing competitions, with cash and other prizes going to those who kill the most, largest or even the smallest pup.
The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) board was set to vote on a ban on the contests with cash prizes in August, but instead, the board was told it didn’t have the authority to act on the issue of monetary prizes.
DWR Executive Director Ryan Brown said these contests raise opposing passions. While hunters love the cash prizes and farmers continue to believe that coyotes and foxes are a nuisance, many animal lovers find the contests appalling.
I readily admit I fall in the latter camp.
Predators are a vital part of a healthy ecosystem by keeping deer, rodents and other animals in check.
Killing coyotes is actually the worst way to reduce their numbers. Studies show that when coyotes are under threat, they produce more offspring and expand their territory.
According to DWR, the most effective and humane way to deal with coyote and fox problems is to not feed wildlife, to secure trash containers or other food sources and to keep pets indoors. Coyotes can also be scared off with loud noises, projectiles or sprays.
Brown said while all those points are true, the contests do not threaten the populations of foxes, coyotes or bobcats, which are also sometimes killed in these contests.
“It comes down to a social issue rather than a biological issue,” Brown said. “It does not pose a threat to the biological resources of Virginia.”
Brown said the state tracks coyote and fox numbers through hunter surveys but does not have estimates on current population counts.
The General Assembly defines coyotes as nuisance animals, which can be killed in any number year-round. Science indicates that law needs to change.
While there is a season on foxes, there is no limit to how many of them can be killed in season, except in seven counties that have banned fox hunting.
Bobcats are limited to two per day from Nov. 1 to the end of February.
The 2020 Eastern U.S. Predator Calling Championship (EUSPCC) held in Wytheville drew hundreds of hunters from almost every state east of the Mississippi, who brought in carcasses of dead coyotes and foxes. The pictures can be seen at https://wolfpatrol.org/2020/01/21/850-coyotes-and-foxes-killed-in-2-day-multi-state-wildlife-killing-contest/.
All told, 850 animals died for $20,000 in cash prizes, not because they were being nuisances.
At least 18 contests were held in Virginia from 2015 to 2021, according to the Virginia Mercury.
Eight states have banned killing contests, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington and, most recently, Maryland.
It’s up to the General Assembly to ban these contests or change the nuisance law in Virginia. Let your legislators know where you stand.
Shannon Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.