Environmentalists oppose aerial gunning of coyotes
DENVER – Environmentalists have condemned a coyote-control plan by the Colorado Wildlife Commission that may include aerial gunning in two new national conservation areas.
The Colorado Commission will decide in January whether to propose shooting coyotes from the air. The Legislature would have final say on the experiment, intended to determine whether coyotes are responsible for declining mule deer herds.
Drops in the number of deer have raised concerns throughout the West, in part because hunting is big business, especially in rural areas.
State officials acknowledge aerial gunning of animals is controversial, but say it would be the most effective way to control coyotes in the experiment. Breeding pairs of coyotes would be targeted only when and where fawns are born.
Trapping and poisoning are outlawed in Colorado. Shooting coyotes on the ground would likely be the only alternative.
Aerial gunning is controversial enough, environmentalists say. Proposing it in parts of western Colorado now part of national conservation areas and in proposed wilderness areas is ”a reckless and uninformed assault.”
”We have some problems from a lot of different viewpoints,” said Suzanne Jones of the Denver-based regional office of The Wilderness Society.
Jones said aerial gunning is expensive and it’s unclear whether it’s effective.
She also questioned why the state would consider shooting animals from helicopters in areas Congress has agreed deserve special protection because of their environmental uniqueness.
Two possible spots for the experiment overlap the Gunnison Gorge and Colorado Canyons national conservation areas. The sites in Mesa and Montrose counties also contain federal wilderness and land proposed as wilderness.
”I think people are going to question hammering one species for the sake of another species that happens to be your cash crop,” said Mike Smith, wildlife chairman for the Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club.
The study, which would take about four years, calls for aggressively managing coyotes in sites where the mortality rate for fawns is high and the number of mule deer is far below state goals. No predator control would be used in a site with similar problems to try to determine how effective the plan is.
General approaches to coyote control have been studied, said Todd Malmsbury, spokesman for the Wildlife Division.
”But we’re going to look at specific aspects of predator management that haven’t really been studied before by scientifically controlled means,” Malmsbury said.
The state will work with the federal government to make sure all laws are followed, including ones governing wilderness areas, he said.
The coyote proposal came from an advisory panel studying state management plans for predators. The Legislature formed the panel because of concerns that coyotes are killing too many mule deer.
There were roughly 529,115 mule deer in the state last year, down from 544,646 in 1996, a 2.9 percent drop. The division’s goal is a statewide herd of 634,800.
The Wildlife Division doesn’t kill coyotes or other predators for preying on other wildlife because that’s seen as nature taking its course. The Department of Agriculture has a program for coyotes, mountain lions and other animals that attack livestock.
Some experts blame loss of habitat to development, exotic weeds crowding out native vegetation and drought for the drops. They say there is no evidence that predators are responsible and the numbers of deer are gradually rising.
Jerry Hart said he suspects there are many reasons for the decline. But Hart, head of United Sportsmen’s Council, a statewide hunting group, said hunters want a sound scientific study to determine what part predators play.
The number of deer licenses sold has already been drastically cut to rebuild the herds, Hart said.
Hart’s group supports aerial gunning because it is seen as more precise. He said in the past, environmentalists complained poisoning and trapping were too indiscriminate and shooting was more merciful.
”For people to reverse that position, in my opinion, reveals the intent: not to manage, but to eliminate any control of predators,” Hart said.
On the Net:
Colorado Wildlife Division: http://wildlife.state.co.us/
Colorado Agriculture Department: http://www.ag.state.co.us/
The Wilderness Society: http://www.wilderness.org/
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