New York Must Act to End Wildlife Killing Contests
A bill quickly advancing in the State Legislature (A.2917/S.4099) would end the cruel and senseless monetized killing of our state’s wildlife. Most readers would be shocked by the depravity of wildlife killing contests.
Across New York at such events, participants compete for cash and prizes for killing the most, the largest, or even the smallest foxes, bobcats, coyotes, squirrels, crows and other species over a weekend.
These fringe, cash competitions are a wanton waste of our state’s cherished wildlife resources and a true embarrassment to New York State.
Scientific evidence does not support claims that killing contests are useful in controlling wildlife populations or preventing conflicts. In fact, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), along with wildlife agencies across the country, has found that indiscriminate killing of coyotes, the most common target of killing contests, can cause their numbers to grow and may escalate conflicts with livestock.
Random killing is counterproductive because it disrupts the sensitive pack structure that allows coyotes to self-regulate their populations. The DEC has concluded that the random removal of coyotes will not reduce coyote populations, prevent livestock conflicts or increase deer numbers for hunters.
Notwithstanding, at least 25 wildlife killing contests were held across the Empire State in 2022, including the Annual Smoke-n-Yote’s Coyote Hunt in Montgomery County, the Cuba Rod & Gun Club Squirrel Slam in Allegany County and the WNY Mini Predator Slam in Cattaraugus County. At contests in Sullivan County and Wayne County that Humane Society of the United States investigators attended, a participant remarked, “If it’s not useful, we throw them in the dumpster. Some of them are pretty messed up.” Another said of a dead pregnant coyote, “She might be right full of babies, too, you know?”
This is no way to treat wildlife species of which we are all stewards, species held in trust for the enjoyment and benefit of all New Yorkers.
State wildlife management professionals also have recognized the lack of basic ethics involved. When the Arizona Game & Fish Commission prohibited wildlife killing contests in 2019, sportsman and then-commission chair Jim Zieler said, “It’s difficult to stand up and defend a practice like this.” Wildlife agency professionals are among the many who worry that these contests are jeopardizing the future of hunting.
As The Wildlife Society explains, “Killing contests differ from typical regulated hunting by the very nature of the organized public competition and prizes being given specifically for killing the largest, smallest, or most animals. ‘Big Buck’ pools or organized record books differ from killing contests because the animals recognized in these competitions are harvested consistent with ordinary and generally accepted hunting practices and then introduced to the competition.”
Most New York residents would never consider taking part in these extreme spectacles, and many responsible hunters in New York have confirmed that they wouldn’t, either. Nothing in the proposed legislation changes hunting seasons, bag limits or any other regulations. Deer, turkey and bear are exempt from the bill, as the state already closely regulates the seasonal hunting of these species. This bill focuses on one thing, ending the use of wildlife for cash profit.
Eight U.S. states already prohibit killing contests, and Oregon plans to do so this year. The DEC has stated that it “does not condone nor sponsor” them. This bill has the support of farmers, hunters, scientists, veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators, all of whom want to see the Legislature bring this carnage to an end. It can do so by passing A.2917/S.4099 in this session, as soon as possible.
Brian Shapiro is New York State Director for the Humane Society of the United States.