GEORGIA — The controversial Georgia Coyote Challenge has become a point of contention for hunters, animal lovers and scientists.
Beginning this month, hunters are challenged to kill up to five coyotes a month. In return, the trappers are entered into a monthly drawing for a lifetime hunting or fishing license sponsored by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“Currently, scientific research suggests that removal of coyotes during the spring and summer is the most advantageous time to reduce the impact of predation on native wildlife,” Georgia DNR Commissioner Mark Williams said. “We want to encourage coyote removal efforts during this critical period.”
DNR Biologist Charlie Killmaster said there are coyotes in every county of the state, and the animals can move tremendous distances.
He said 93 percent of Georgia is private land and the people who own or manage that private land are the ones in control of the animal population within the department’s regulations.
“Due to the human population in the metro Atlanta area, that area of the state tends to generate the most complaints by far,” Killmaster said. “That’s as the coyotes readily adapt to the urban and suburban lifestyle.”
However, the challenge doesn’t come without its own set of problems, including backlash from groups like the Atlanta Coyote Project which is comprised of scientists. The group said there is little to no hard data that shows coyotes “significantly impact the population of other wildlife species.”
Chris Mowry is an associate professor of biology at Berry College and is a scientist for the Atlanta Coyote Project. He said the challenge was announced with little notice.
Atlanta Coyote Project isn’t against hunting, he said, but rather they want to use science to find the best way to solve problems.
Additionally, the Atlanta Coyote Project has been contacted by citizens concerned about public safety due to hunters in neighborhoods.
“Many people, not just our organization, but many professional biologists were taken aback by it,” Mowry said. “The coyotes are here now because we eliminated the red wolf, which was a predator here for tens of thousands of years, and allowed the coyote to move back in. Humans have done this before where they didn’t like a predator and said, ‘we have to get rid of them.’ To turn around and kill the coyotes is bad science.”
The Atlanta Coyote Project said its members strongly reject the “wildlife-killing contest as both inhumane and unwise. For a state agency whose mission is to ‘sustain, enhance, protect and conserve Georgia’s natural, historic and cultural resources’ to sponsor such a program is reprehensible.”
Mowry added that the Georgia DNR contradicts itself with a quote from its coyote fact sheet that said, “The presence of coyotes in an ecosystem ‘proves to be an asset in maintaining the balance of wildlife in Georgia.’”
But the department has said the challenge is consistent with and supported by the Department Of Natural Resources and the Wildlife Resources Division’s missions, with which Killmaster agrees.
“Yes, coyotes serve some ecological function,” he said. “But our goal is to remind people they have the ability to manage coyotes. This is not a measure to eradicate coyotes in the state. It’s far from that. Any sort of contest or bounty programs are not conducive to eradication.”
Killmaster said the DNR has received a lot of complaints, both by those against the challenge but also by people who’ve had pets taken by coyotes or hunters concerned about the impact of coyotes on native wildlife.
Despite the criticism, Killmaster said he thinks the challenge has already been successful.
“This is an effort to remind people that coyotes can be taken 365 days a year,” he said. “If they have problems with coyotes then they have that tool to address those issues. I think this will be a success.”
But Mowry thinks the reminder to hunters is a weak justification for the challenge. He said predators, like coyotes, will limit their own numbers so humans don’t need to interfere.
“So what? I don’t agree with that anyway but to compound that by incentivizing the practice by offering a reward is wrong,” he said. “Many states are working to ban these ‘killing contests’ because it’s like cock fighting, which we don’t do anymore. This sends the message to people that you should go out and kill as many as you can. This is a black eye for our state that we’re going to encourage this kind of a thing.”