Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Predator hunters coming to Tucson: Protests planned

January 31, 2015   • 

This could be a deadly week for coyotes and other predators in Southern Arizona.
The reason: A group called Predator Masters is holding a convention in the Tucson area Thursday through Saturday — and animal protection advocates say the group’s previous conventions have included daily predator hunts that amount to “killing contests” and an “indiscriminate slaughter” of coyotes.
A Predator Masters hunt in New Mexico last year left nearly 40 coyote carcasses strewn out and rotting, said Greg Hale, a Tucsonan who is helping organize protests of the hunts here.
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A spokesman for Predator Masters strongly objected to the “slaughter” and “killing contest” characterizations — and he emphasized that the nonprofit, web-based group won’t organize or direct the hunting activities of group members during the convention in Tucson.
“Every year, we have a Predator Masters hunt and convention” involving guest speakers and a fundraising banquet, said spokesman Bob Lemons. “But we are not organizing a hunt. We are not organizing a contest. It’s just people privately deciding they’d like to go out and hunt” on public lands with the appropriate hunting licenses.
“It’s absolutely not true that it’s a slaughter,” Lemons said, noting that hunters target a variety of predators in addition to coyotes. Among them: bobcats, foxes, raccoons, ringtail cats and coatimundis.
Hunt opponents said they’re planning protests, including one from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday outside the International Wildlife Museum, west of Tucson, the site of convention events.
“We want to make them unwelcome here,” Hale said. “What they do is a complete and indiscriminate slaughter of coyotes. It’s more of a mass killing than a hunt,” with coyotes lured into firing range by hunters using predator calling devices.
“And what’s really disgraceful is that when you see a pile of coyotes killed for sport, they don’t even take the pelts,” Hale said. “They just let them rot out in the desert.”
Hunt opponents posted an online petition titled “Stop the February 2015 Wildlife Killing Contest in Tucson” and said they planned to deliver it to Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and other officials.
Judy Paulsen, spokeswoman for a group called Project Coyote, described the predator hunters as “thrill killers.”
“You see piles of slaughtered coyotes, but they’re not using them for food or fur,” Paulsen said. “It’s just for the fun of killing. There should be a total ban on this kind of coyote killing.”
She noted that the California Fish and Game Commission last year banned predator killing contests.
“The commission said people can’t offer prizes or inducements for killing predators,” although individuals are free to kill predators on their own initiative with the proper hunting licenses, Paulsen said.
Lemons, the Predator Masters spokesman, said the group has “up to 50,000 members from all over the world” and that members stay in touch via the group’s website — predatormastersforums.com — on the Internet.
“The website receives over a million hits every day,” Lemons said.
“Predator Masters is not just going out to kill coyotes,” he said. “It’s recreational sport hunting for predators.”
Critics of the group question whether the hunts are sporting in nature.
“They often use electronic calls,” Paulsen said. “There’s nothing skillful about turning on a machine that makes sounds like coyote pups calling for their mothers, or a rabbit in distress — and then killing a coyote when it comes in.”
Lemons said that “predator calling is similar to fishing, where you throw your lure out in the lake. Predator hunting is similar to that.”
He declined to estimate how many predators might be killed during the group’s event in Tucson.
“The number taken depends on the number of people who go out, and it depends on weather conditions,” Lemons said. “So it’s hard to estimate how many. Probably most of the animals taken will be coyotes. But there will probably be some bobcats, gray foxes and other things.”
Predator Masters conventions typically attract about 120 people, Lemons said.
“For the past five years, the event was held in Las Cruces, New Mexico,” he said. Some people protested the Las Cruces events, and city officials there passed a resolution last year opposing the hunts.
“This will be the first time in Tucson” for the event, Lemons said. Previous events have been held in Globe.
Some proponents of coyote calling and hunting maintain that it’s a way to reduce coyote populations and thereby limit the predators’ impact on livestock and other wildlife.
Efforts to contact University of Arizona and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum biologists with knowledge of coyote population dynamics were unsuccessful. But websites of several other universities include data on “compensatory reproduction” by coyotes.
A University of Wyoming study reported that “For years, ranchers and farmers here and in other states have killed coyotes that kill and feed upon their domestic sheep and lambs. In addition, ‘coyote contests’ are organized for people to shoot the animals as a means to reduce the population.
“In spite of these lethal control measures, the coyote population has continued to increase, if not thrive, across the United States,” the study found. “Research has shown that coyotes have ‘compensatory mechanisms’ for when they are under lethal attack. In effect, females increase their litter size and begin reproducing earlier.”
Such findings support Lemons’ contention that Predator Masters hunters don’t have a significant long-term impact on the coyote population.
“Sport hunting is inadequate to control coyote numbers,” Lemons said. “There’s no way that predator calling is enough to make a significant change in predator control.”
“We are aware of the event,” said Mark Hart, spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Predator hunting is legal year-round in Arizona, except for bobcat and fox from April through July, and requires a valid hunting license as well as adherence to all applicable rules and regulations.
“To our knowledge, there is no organized hunt or competition planned for this event,” Hart said.
A spokesman for the International Wildlife Museum, where the convention will take place, said the museum has “nothing to do with organizing the event.”
“It’s their event. We’re just providing the facilities,” said Dennis Treadwell, communications and marketing specialist for the museum. “There will be no hunting or shooting on International Wildlife Museum property.”