WDFW Hearing It, From Both Sides, On NE WA Coyote Derby

An otherwise quiet coyote derby in the snowy woods north of Spokane has turned into a skirmish of opposing online petitions, and made Washington the latest battleground over such events.

An action alert posted by the Center For Biological Diversity was countered last night by a call to support the nearly two-month-long “Save our Fawns” derby.

The latter was posted after organizers were told last Saturday that the Department of Fish & Wildlife had received over 500 emails in opposition to their event.

In an email Sunday night, Freddie Giannechini in Colville worried that it may lead to the end of contests like the one he’s been a part of for at least the past four winters.

Just last month, California’s wildlife overseers said they would consider banning derbies after outcries in that state.

That isn’t on the table here, but according to WDFW’s small game manager Brian Calkins, the protests from the Arizona-based group to Director Phil Anderson and the Fish & Wildlife Commission reference an opposition to coyote killing in general and express a concern for wolves in the vicinity.

There are at least six packs in the three counties the derby is being held in. Wolves here have been federally delisted but remain under state endangered species protections.

Recently one with a radio collar was shot and killed in northern Stevens County*, and that pushed the event onto the radar of CBD and other groups, according to a source.

Predator advocates, who are in a broader war against coyote killing, such as that done by USDA Wildlife Services in support of ranching, argue that derbies are barbaric, against the tenants of hunting and ineffectual at controlling numbers of the so-called mesopredators. 

Derby proponents’ petition reads Creating special 60-day hunts allow hunters to remove excess coyotes prior or during the spring fawn season, a time when whitetail deer and other ungulate populations can often be decimated by agressive (sic) depredation.” 

Two back-to-back winters in the latter half of last decade hit the deer herd here hard. In their bid to help it recover local sportsmen convinced the wildlife commission to make parts of the area a four-point minimum for whitetail bucks. Antlerless tags were also reduced. The past two hunting seasons we’ve seen a turnaround in deer numbers, at least by harvest statistics.

At the same time, the contests provide participants with a sense of mission and measurable short-term results, if not increasingly also a way to thumb their nose at outsiders and their fur-friendly ideas of wildlife management.

Wily coyotes provide a superb challenge for hunters, and they are also problematic for ranchers, of which there are a few in this corner of the state.

Biologists point to habitat and weather as the main controlling factors of big game populations — the past handful of winters haven’t been too severe in this area — but in a few instances heavy predation by multiple kinds of toothy critters can keep herds from bouncing back. WDFW researchers are studying survival rates for whitetails in Northeast Washington.

Over the past three winters, derby shooters have brought in 735 coyotes  – 2011: 227; 2012: 294; 2013: 214. It will be interesting to see how this year’s final tally compares to those; so far this season over 40 have been dropped off at one of several locations accepting them

WDFW allows events like these through permits, says Calkins. Four or five have been authorized to occur this winter, he says. 

They can only be sponsored by nonprofits and the prize giveaway is limited to a maximum of $2,000, he says.

The rules have been in place quite awhile to prevent them from becoming large-scale competitive events seen in other states, says Calkins, by which I took to also mean, operate at as low profile a level as possible.

Indeed, to a remarkable degree Washington’s have escaped the uproar those elsewhere in the West have generated in recent years. A combined canid derby in Idaho earlier this winter saw widespread news coverage and an appeal to U.S. District Court to stop it, a move that was ultimately denied; a total of 21 coyotes and no wolves were killed, the latter stat hardly surprising. One coyote contest last month in California ended with some sort of shoving match between a sponsor and a man trying to photograph carcasses.

Calkins says that in digging back into the agency’s files he only found one other instance of public displeasure about a hunting derby in the Evergreen State — way back around the year 2000.

Deeper into the Internet era, he’s now hearing it, from both sides.

Even as a thread on Hunting-Washington worries “Will WDFW make coyote contests illegal?” and urges members to email the commission in support of the events, no changes are planned.

“At the current time we have no plans to pull the permit back,” Calkins says. “If we did, we’d need to demonstrate the contest was putting wildlife at risk in some way. It would be tough for us to do that.”

The derby runs through the end of March.

* The most deadly things for Canis lupus in this part of Washington in recent years have been state sharpshooters with seven kills; Canadian hunters, trappers, livestock owners and/or government agents with a handful of kills of dispersers; Idaho and Spokane Tribe hunters and trappers with a few more; unknown post-trapping causes that killed a pup; and the bumper of an unidentified vehicle.