Back in April, 15 members of Congress introduced legislation that would prohibit organizing, sponsoring, conducting, or participating in wildlife killing contests on more than 500 million acres of US public lands. Ending contests on federally owned lands across the US would stop one of the most horrific bloodsports the country has ever known, but federal legislation is a long process and an uphill battle and, more often than not, needs sustained public support.
Each year, thousands of coyotes, foxes, bobcats, prairie dogs, crows, and even wolves are targeted in killing contests where contestants win cash, prizes, and bragging rights for killing the most or largest animals from a suite a native species. Photo by Renee Grayson.
The first of its kind at the federal level, the Prohibit Wildlife Killing Contests Act of 2022 would require the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Forest Service to enact regulations banning wildlife killing contests within a year. Eight states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington — have already outlawed these events within their borders.
Each year, thousands of coyotes, foxes, bobcats, prairie dogs, crows, and even wolves are targeted in killing contests where contestants win cash, prizes such as semiautomatic weapons, and bragging rights for killing the most or largest animals from a suite a native species. These contests, largely unmonitored by state and federal wildlife agencies, are still legal throughout the United States and often occur on our public lands.
Hard data on killing contests is difficult to collect but we know they occur across the country to the detriment of sound biodiversity conservation and ecosystem health. Contest participants increasingly operate through private channels and move underground in response to public scrutiny. Targeted species are largely unprotected and can be killed 24/7 in unlimited numbers. Americans are shocked to learn that wildlife killing contests are legal on our public lands. Ethical hunters are equally appalled at the behavior of contest participants and the black eye they give to the broader hunting community.
“America’s wildlife all play a special role in the natural ecosystem and killing them for what some deem ‘sport’ is both cruel and unnecessary. These contests serve no legitimate wildlife-management purpose and ending them is the right thing to do,” Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) said in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction in April.
The bill is supported by the National Coalition to End Wildlife Killing Contests, which is comprised of close to 60 wildlife conservation organizations.
“Most people are shocked to learn that wildlife killing contests are legal on our public lands,” says Camilla Fox, executive director of Earth Island’s Project Coyote, which co-founded the coalition and worked with several partners to support introduction of this bill. “Killing animals for prizes and entertainment is ethically indefensible, ecologically reckless and anathema to sound wildlife conservation and management.”
But the hard truth is that these contests still have huge support in many states, especially within a fringe but powerful hunting lobby. Anti-wildlife and gun rights interests are increasingly organizing and funding opposition to pro-environmental bills such as those banning wildlife killing contests.
However, wildlife advocates like Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, say these contests “constitute neither wildlife management nor sport.”
Often, those participating in these contests violate fundamental hunting principles of fair chase by using bait and electronic calling devices to maximize the likelihood of winning. “Killing contests aren’t merely retrograde cruelty, either,” Letterman says. “They destroy native carnivores like coyotes, who play a vital role in ensuring the health of forest and pastoral ecosystems.”
The bill now enjoys broad support with 22 co-sponsors and has been heard by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. A vote is expected soon.
If you are wondering how you can get involved to support this critical legislation please contact your US Representative urging their support and co-sponsorship of The Prohibit Wildlife Killing Contests Act of 2022 and sign the petition supporting an end to wildlife killing contests on federal public lands. Join Project Coyote’s E-Team to learn more and stay engaged as the bill progresses.
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