November Song Dogs

November reminds me of my final autumn days as a resident of Yosemite National Park. I had come to the park at the age of eighteen, looking for something I had not yet found within myself. Many stragglers had come to work in the forest for that very reason—lost, fallen, or beginning, we were all at a crossroads somehow, and most were far older than me.

I had worked that spring and summer and fall in the Valley, making beds and cleaning shower-houses, so that every night I would go to sleep in the place that I loved, and every day I would wake with awe and wonder in the place that I loved. We carried ourselves with the air of belonging to the woods, and park visitors could detect us immediately as we quietly walked among them. Park rangers could spot us among the crowd also, but as long as we didn’t speed around the bends, burn the forest with bonfires, or hurt the tourists, they too left us alone. Mostly, we were all there waiting to get off work. Days off meant hiking, swimming, rafting, campfires, moonlight walks, and lake-edge drum circles.

But when the summer’s over the tourists go home, the river floods, sand bags come out, roads freeze and become unpassable—and most park employees scatter like fallen leaves, returning to the world from which they came. After sleeping in an army-issue tent in the snow that spring, and remembering how the night frost seeps into your bones, I was ready to head for warmer climates, though I held out as long as I could and was one of only a few still remaining. No more baking on sunny granite boulders with friends and—showering with others, eating with others, sleeping among others, complaining about the overcrowded valley floor, playing pranks on campers, day in and day out—the silence seemed sudden, and lonely. Even though I had faltered unnoticed through the crowds but for the jangling keys at my waist and the familiar knowing where I was going among the meadows and alpine crevasses, now I felt invisible.

When the first snows covered the crimson, lemon, and amber leaves, and a hollow white sky blanched the evergreen Merced River, I walked to keep myself company. The roads out of the mountains were blocked. The campgrounds were empty. The services closed up for the winter. It was just me, walking. Softly padding amid a spectrum of a November colorwheel.

And I walked on, the way you walk when you haven’t found what you’re looking for and aren’t in any rush to find it, the way you walk when you’re cold and have Yosemite Valley very nearly to yourself. It was a thing of profound beauty this quiet music of silent snow, like a late afternoon snooze for the forest floor. I stopped in a small clearing and found myself lost, finally far enough from humans that I could say “I am lost,” with a smile and a mild sense of panic. For the fear itself is the thing from which pleasure comes. I would rather have been nowhere else yet could not quite have said just where I was. And as I stood still, unusually still, stiller than I can remember, I realized I was not alone.

A small grey and gold dog looked at me with his head turned, like someone at a four-way stop, waving you to go as you wave back, “no you go right ahead.” I had seen many a shy fellow such as this trotting along meadows and darting in trees on warm days of early dusk. But what I hadn’t seen, and what happened next, is that I realized not only was I not alone, but he wasn’t alone either. Behind him, standing in a circle around me, still, watching, expressionless, was a pack of these shy fellows, not ten feet away. At first, my heart leapt—I was lost and alone and surrounded by a “pack” of something. That’s never the beginning to a happy ending.

But like hunger, grief, and happiness tend to do, that feeling faded. My inner self, the one that loves animals and is both frightened and fascinated by the “wild,” the one enraptured by El Capitan and the legless climbers that brave its front, the one in love with Yosemite and enamored with wonder at those things made not by the touch of man, nearly wept with gratitude. But first I tried not to breathe.

There was something in that moment, private, and sacred that only those who disturbed a natural moment, and yet had been received with grace, can understand. How long had they been watching me? How foolish to think I had been alone, while walking along grooves of earth carved by millennia of those forces that had come before me, and how glorious to peek into a world which would carry on after I was gone.

They looked at me, I leaned against a tree. I grinned, sheepishly, and tried to be still for them. And then, they vanished. And so it is difficult to understand how anyone could, come any November or any other time of year, kill a song dog, a wild trickster, a shy dog of nature, so wise and so haunted. It must be a curse upon those who face those sacred moments, and feel compelled to take, rather than to observe. I felt more kinship with those coyotes than I have with most humans ever since.

Decades later, I carry that moment within me. Only when you quiet the sounds within can you hear well enough to see, and only when you can truly see can you be truly seen.

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On Being Left Alone, Outdoors

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When I don’t get enough solitude, I grit my teeth over simple things. My creativity becomes a stagnant, shallow creek. Real solitude, the kind I need, is quiet, alone with my dog in nature. People ask me if I get lonely—but the truth is, loneliness is seeking solitude and not finding it.

This morning, a friend suggested I get “out” of the house by going to the office—on a holiday… on my day off. That got me thinking.  Have I wrongly assumed everyone shares a longing to touch the wildness within by being outside?

When my well has run dry inside, I go outside. That’s my office. That’s how I replenish. I find the alone and unknown. My mind grows quiet thankfully, as my soul speaks like water. Alone with trees and leaves and animals and earth, I find my own inner world, and my outer “self” vanishes. What a relief, to be so free of the human world and its demands, its anguish, and to be quenched in solitude. I long for closeness to the few remaining wild spaces people haven’t yet plundered. I seek total autonomy.

These winter months—and a leg injury—have kept me from being outdoors and from being creative: my cup runneth nowhere. Just today, I ventured out and could not escape people, whether on land or water, high ground or lowlands. People, noises, and the “junk” of human existence; it’s inescapable.

Our modern search for satisfaction gets us lost, quick. Deep down, I don’t want the convenience of stores, and gadgets, although I share reliance upon them. And people who like being indoors perplex me. For them, the outdoors is something in between the car and the house and the store. They enjoy the outdoors by focusing on equipment to survive it, as if they can conquer the environment. This isn’t our animal self. If I can’t get lost in the porous natural world, I might as well be made of gortex.

And that’s why I haven’t traveled the world in search of the highest peak, or climbed the sheerest cliff. I prefer the humility of looking up at the mountains in awe and reverence and sleeping outside in a meadow, sheltered by their granite boulders. I don’t seek thrill. I just know there is more to this world in the mystery of the wild. I’d like to move through it quietly, gently, with a soft footstep.

Without this, with only pavement beneath my toes, I thirst, and dry up. For some camping means taking a pop-up trailer to a parking lot by a man-made lake, grilling on a Weber, and throwing aluminum beer cans at each other. This is not what it’s about. And I can’t seem to escape this world.

Are creature comforts, the urban landscape of convenience, the obsession with coffee and artifice, the addiction to being online, to cranking up the heater in mild weather, suffocating the wild within?

I mourn that I cannot truly be left undisturbed. Thoreau said, “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.” But how does one find true solitude—autonomy—these days? How do you do it without being able to own the Earth beneath your feet? How can I howl at the moon if I can’t find a long life, alone and truly free? I’m frightened at the idea that my path might continue this way, and the urge to be untrammeled by humans is one of imperative, not philosophy. I must find a way.

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Coexisting with Coyotes

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Coyotes roam the Northern California landscape as naturally as the curving arms of oak trees and shimmering light of golden grasses. Animals are the environment, the land is our home, and no matter where I rest my head, I dream of this homeland. Its skin, scattered with abandoned Quonset huts, fading into fields with salted, rusting farm equipment baring aquamarine metallic undersides from fog long come and gone. Pines and redwoods sighing through picnics and lovers’ quarrels, soaring bi-planes overhead rising and falling like the Cooper’s hawks who cross the valley floor, searching among the mustard meadows as the earthy smells of dairy pastures carry the work of day into dusk, and the awakening of streetlights flicker among the song of the crickets. Night falls and a coyote cries.

It is the intersection of the nonhuman and human world where that dream is disturbed. My colleague argues that the primary right, the inherent right to be free of society—to unshackle oneself from the company and governance of others—codifies a moral duty for humans to preserve wild places. Without these spaces, consent is manufactured, not given. Simply put, freedom is the ability to be free from people. But with the human population exploding, where can wild animals go to be free?

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What relief to unburden oneself from human society. You wake up, alone but in a new place. You figure it out, alone. You survive by yourself. You thrive with yourself. Creativity must be alone, because of alone. Traveling alone far surpasses traveling with human companions, most of the time. Those spiritual journeys, when our senses are most alive, when the silences of solitude allow our hearts to feel what we hide in dialogue, those adventures are the most memorable and the most wild within. And yet we are not alone. The nonhuman world is always there, and that is why freedom means coexisting.

Solitude quiets everything else, a reminder to feel only this thing, live only in this story. In my story, I have a good dog who shares my life and heals my heart. She accompanies me everywhere—in travels, walks, work days, and wanderings. And when a coyote runs by, she stays by my side. She is shy, loyal, smart, goofy, gentle, and athletic. We share a preference of being alone, napping in the sun by an old oak tree. She chose me and I chose her—kindred spirits, or so I choose to believe.

 

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Posy in the creek, Santa Rosa laguna (photo: Ian Elwood)

Her work friend is a big, loafing red-haired Burmese Mountain/Lab mix who obeys the laws of nothing. He sleeps most of the day, whereas Posy will run all day long. But they love each other. Posy has scraped the paint off the door to his office, trying to get in. If he could barrel through it to get to her, he would. We call them buddy cops, these oddly-matched friends. Posy is the energetic, naïve new graduate of the academy, ready to clean up the streets; Chester, the aging, cynical, lazier cop, loathe to make an effort after all these years. But together, he calms her and she ignites him, and they run in our parking lot and along the creek bed, as if the bad guys are getting away.

Last week, a suburban coyote sparked the apex of their buddy-cop drama. Chester went into the creek after her, finding the coyote cousin and the stagnant water irresistibly appealing. She was perhaps the largest coyote I’ve ever seen, darting behind a fence on the side of the creek bed. Having found herself fenced in, caged essentially by a house fence, and with a gigantic domesticated dog splashing toward her, she searched intensely for her getaway. Yet Posy stood by my side, neither alarmed nor intrigued.  I was moved by her ability to stay distant, and just quite simply leave this wild animal alone.

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Photo: David Cruz, special to the San Francisco Chronicle

 

Coyotes deserve to be left alone. Our office is headquartered on a busy main street in a semi-rural town. Collisions are a weekly occurrence. In fact, it’s the same street on which my mother was run over by a delivery truck as she was crossing on foot. Yesterday, a wild turkey lay scattered on its asphalt, the victim of speeding driver. A short walk down the road from our office, one will encounter wild turkeys and ducks, ring neck snakes and foxes, and farmed goats, pigs, chickens, and cows, guard llamas, and domesticated dogs and cats, in addition to urban squirrels, feral cats, and various rodents.

Whizzing along at this pace, people may see only cars and apartments and shops, but I see the other animals living among us, in our shadows. Amid suburban and semi-rural chaos, they are not shadows to themselves. Their world is just as important to them as ours is to us. How glorious it might have been for other animals, before humans encroached upon the sun.

Unfortunately for wildlife, our countryside and wetlands are being drained for agriculture or developed for industry. What was once a mix of pools, lakes, marshes, woods, and plains is now tract houses, strip malls, vineyards, and urban sprawl; as a result, biodiversity is diminishing and species compete for smaller waterways. The Santa Rosa Laguna watershed, running northwest from Cotati and entering the Russian River north of Forestville, drawing in smaller watersheds, cleans the water headed toward the river, and provides runoff for floods and habitat for wildlife. Its recent restoration has included the re-planting of hundreds of native plants, grasses, sedges, and rushes.

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Santa Rosa Laguna

 

For a timespan hard to fathom, the Sonoma Valley was home to only nonhuman animals. Then, it was shared with Coastal Miwoks, in the village of Kota’ti. Next, like the rest of the U.S. in the early 19th century, it was industrialized for agrictulture—a fellow named John Thomas Reed built a cabin on Crane Creek and started farming, until the Kota’ti burned it down. At that time, the valley belonged to Mexico, which leased thousands of acres of “Rancho Cotate.” By mid-century, Mexico’s hold over the territory was displaced. Thomas Page, an absentee landlord, then held title to the valley and introduced sheep and cattle ranching to the area.

When the train came to town, the railroad stopped at Page’s Station—a wood and water stop. Page ranch butted up against Washoe House (built in 1839, now a famous, though quirky watering hole), and subdivided land parcels as the Cotati Land Company. Echoing history, a light-rail super-speed train will once again connect San Francisco with the North Bay, via Cotati. Good for commuters and the overdeveloped wine industry. What will that mean for our already diminishing wild spaces?

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Photo: David Assman

 

Cotati—like so many other places—celebrates coyotes. Businesses with “Coyote” in their name abound, because coyotes dance upon the landscape of our imaginations. But does that mythos allow us to usurp their land and overlook their needs, guilt-free? If only we could get out of their way.

Legally, coyotes can be killed with few limits. Unprotected beyond cruelty statutes, they are “vermin” under the law. There are no “bag limits,” no hunting “seasons,” and for years, the abuse of legal loopholes has allowed groups to hold bloodbath killing sprees known as “killing contests,” which award large prizes for whoever slaughters the most, and the biggest, of our native songdogs. A few months ago, California became the first state to ban prizes for those killing contests. But that didn’t stop the contests.

A few years ago, I was flying to a leading animal rights conference and reading a magazine by Defenders of Wildlife—a conservation group who supported the reintroduction of wolves by financially offsetting wolf depredation for ranchers. A woman next to me was reading about sheep ranching. She insisted lethal predator control was the only way to protect livestock. She was misinformed. And it is important for all who value wild places to value nonlethal predator control. It works.

But in Cotati and so many places beyond, coyotes present a living reminder of our overhaul of the wild, not just in rural areas, but across the U.S. Just this month, National Geographic wrote a piece about a coyote on the roof of a building in New York City, and the Natural History of the Urban Coyote notes that coyotes are survivors, living among us despite the odds. In Chicago, they walk the streets, stopping at lights to let the buzzing traffic rush by. In San Francisco, they have been rumored to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Coyotes seem far more able to coexist than people.

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Photo: Urban Coyote Project

 

But coyotes should not have to survive in cities and the onus for coexistence is on us, not them. Like all wild animals, they have the right to wild places. When wild animals and humans reside in close quarters, the results can be catastrophic for the animals. Only a few months ago, a 6lb coyote pup was found, tortured, in Santa Maria. Too many people are happy to hurt coyotes, to defend livestock, their dog, their backyard, or just for sport. Coexistence is possible, as the North Bay in particular has shown, thanks to groups like Project Coyote and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. That moral right to be free of human society—(a legal right indicated by the Wilderness Act, and wilderness is an animal rights issue notes Kathleen Stachowski)—means a fundamental shift in population growth, eating and hunting habits, development, and attitude about the nonhuman world.

In the last 50 years, our planet has lost nearly 50% of its wild animals. Meanwhile, the human population has exploded. What will the planet look like 50 years from now? Will there be any wild places for nonhuman animals to be autonomous? Without that, without the ability to be free of human society, without space for real solitude, whether as a human or a nonhuman animal, are any of us really free?

At night, Posy and I fall asleep to the yips of these beautiful, native songdogs. We coexist like easy peas. They are there in the dark, listening to each other, as I listen to their song, and Posy listens to me. With a little care—attending to the unwritten rules of the night by respecting nocturnal creatures, keeping her by my side, letting her roam in the day–I protect her and our resident coyotes, as they protect and inherently vitalize our local lands, and I marvel in the gift of their presence, shared with mine. We coexist in a land that is rural, urban, and wild all at the same time.

Reckless Killing Contests Continue

This is the contest that started it all–the outrage, and the push to ban killing contests in California. And this weekend, February 6-8, the town of Adin, in the rural northeast corner of California, will hold its annual coyote killing spree, the “Big Valley Coyote Drive,” despite the 2014 ban on prizes for killing furbearing animals in contests. Last week, concerned about the high potential for law-breaking at this event, the Animal Legal Defense Fund sent a formal letter to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, Law Enforcement Division, asking them to send an observer to the Pit River Rod and Gun Club and Adin Supply-sponsored killing contest. Last December, the California Fish and Game Commission banned the distribution of prizes in killing contests.

Historically, every February for the last eight years, contest participants in Adin’s Coyote Drive have competed for large cash prizes and other awards (like expensive artillery) to see who can kill the most native coyotes. These prizes were outlawed in 2014 in California’s Fish and Game Code § 2003:

“it is unlawful to offer any prize or other inducement as a reward for the taking of furbearers in an individual contest, tournament, or derby.”

California taxpayers overwhelmingly support the Commission’s ban on killing contest prizes. A wide majority of hunters also support the ban. In these bloodbaths, animals like foxes, coyotes, and bobcats are cruelly killed for no other reason than to procure prizes for killing. Tens of thousands of signatures have been garnered on a Project Coyote petition to ban wildlife killing contests in California.

Killing contests are reckless wildlife management: those who defend the killing sprees by pointing to an increase in coyote populations refuse to acknowledge science which has conclusively shown that killing animals haphazardly like this increases their populations and worsens any “problem” they may create for “livestock.” These contests are creating the problem they pretend to be controlling, and are ineffective at best, savage at worst: glorifying killing for the sake of killing. As ALDF has repeatedly shown, nonlethal predator control works, is more effective, and is more humane. Furthermore, wildlife management should be based on science.

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Want research? Numerous studies support this point:

As a leader in humane laws, California should ban all killing contests—not just the prizes that have traditionally been awarded to hunters. Until that safeguard is in place, California’s Department of Fish & Wildlife must ensure that these reckless killing sprees—like Adin’s this week—are acting in accordance with the ban on prizes that reward this mindless destruction of wildlife. For other stories on this topic, read Chris Clarke’s story for KCET.

Please sign ALDF’s pledge to boycott all killing contests.

 

Federal Protection Returned to Endangered Gray Wolves in Wyoming

It isn’t often we get good news for wolves, but a court decision on September 23, 2014 made that day’s news cycle very good indeed. Gray wolves in Wyoming will once again be protected, as they deserve, under the Endangered Species Act: their safety no longer vulnerable to shoot-on-sight anti-wolf policies.

Two years ago, as a new staff member, I wrote my first blog post for ALDF called Wolf Hunting: The Final Frontier. In that segment, I explained that in 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the federal protections afforded gray wolves in Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act. By doing so, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service handed over control of the fragile wolf population to politicians in a state whose hostile anti-wolf policies will go down in history as extreme and unreasonable.

The D.C. district court invalidated that September 2012 decision yesterday. In their successful lawsuit, Earthjustice represented Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity in court. The court granted summary judgment on the basis that Wyoming was not able to manage the gray wolf population. The judgment states:

the Court concludes that it was arbitrary and capricious for the Service to rely on the state’s nonbinding promises to maintain a particular number of wolves when the availability of that specific numerical buffer was such a critical aspect of the delisting decision.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated gray wolves of the Northern Rockies as a protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Act was passed “to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species may be conserved” and “to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species.” In 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service refused to give management responsibility to Wyoming, even after giving it to Idaho and Montana, repeatedly finding Wyoming’s management plan to be inadequate—critics have called its variations haphazard and cruel. In 2010, the District Court of Wyoming tried to give management back to the state, Wyoming made some minor adjustments, and in September 2012 the Fish and Wildlife Service allowed federal protections to be removed from wolves. In November, after the mandatory waiting period, our conservation colleagues filed suit.

In its judgment, the court found that “The Service cannot rely solely on an unenforceable promise as a basis to delist a species” and cited a variety of precedents where our federal, taxpayer-funded agency relied on “unenforceable statements of intent on an issue that was critical to the delisting decision.” In the plainest terms, the court ruled that Wyoming’s haphazard management of gray wolves—their shoot-on-sight and essentially unlimited wolf-killing policy—will come to an end. Wolves will be protected under federal law in Wyoming once again.

In just a few weeks, ALDF will cohost the 22nd Annual Animal Law Conference, along with the Center for Animal Law Studies, at Lewis & Clark Law School. The theme of this conference is Animal Law in a Changing Environment: Finding Common Ground. The importance of sharing that common ground, coexisting with nonhuman animals in our wild spaces, and working together—animal protection groups with conservation groups and others—to find justice for our earth, is made tangible today.

Huckleberry Wolf Pack Gets Death Sentence

The conflict between private ranchers and taxpayer-funded wildlife management agencies and endangered wildlife is coming to a head this weekend, and it may mean the heads of up to four wild wolves in eastern Washington. The state’s Dept. of Fish & Wildlife has given the green-light, totally under the radar (ie, secretly) and without public forum, to use helicopters to shoot and kill members of the Huckleberry wolf pack this weekend. They tried to do so today but were unsuccessful, and they head out to kill the wolves first thing in the morning.

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Huckleberry wolf pack pups Courtesy WA Dept of Fish & Wildlife

 

“The department’s secretive weekend assault on this endangered wolf pack goes beyond the pale,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s unconscionable that a public agency would take action to kill an endangered species without notifying the public. These wolves belong to the public and decisions about whether they live or die ought to be made in the clear light of day.”

The Huckleberry pack, who have just produced a handful of wolf pups earlier this spring, will be annihilated this weekend if Governor Jay Inslee does not step in to halt the lethal attack. The secretive way in which the Department has issued this hunt — despite no public hearing held, as required by the terms of the wildlife management policies — raises serious issues regarding their ability to conduct proper wildlife management. Although the conflict represents the ongoing issues between ranchers who have claimed depredation of their sheep (without thorough proof that these sheep were killed by wolves; statistically it is known that many claimed wolf depredation kills turn out to be other native predators, problems with birth, or disease), but that in fairness even if the wolves have killed the sheep (ranchers are compensated), the state is required to fully exhaust all nonlethal predator control strategies. Here they have definitely not used all the nonlethal means available to them and have not at least tried to use other methods first, including range riders. These methods, though not wholly foolproof, have had some success. At minimum, these wolves and the hundreds of thousands of Washington residents who don’t want them killed, deserve a public forum first.

Read the press release here by Amaroq Weiss of Center for Biological Diversity.

Howling for Coyotes

 

Coyotes are wild “song dogs” known for their beautiful howls and their importance to diverse wild lands. Like dogs, their gentle, affectionate nature and the role they play in their habitat is fascinating. Yet, like wolves, they are slaughtered en masse because of mistaken cultural myths and legal loopholes. From a love of outdoors, time spent working in a national park, and my own experience living in the country amongst coyotes, I know them to be incredibly playful awe-inspiring wild animals with a profound intelligence and sense of family. That’s why I’m proud of the work the Animal Legal Defense Fund does to help protect coyotes and other native predators.

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These song dogs (their official name is canis latrans, or “talking dog”) are pack animals, like wolves, domestic dogs, and humans. Coyotes mate for life and live in family structures with a dominant mom and dad and extended family. They create elaborate dens within circular territories so they can better protect their pups. Coyotes are small, weighing between 35-45lbs, depending upon geography and season. Contrary to popular myth which demonizes them, coyotes are very shy animals—and they are a “keystone species” which means their presence impacts the entire ecosystem they belong to. Remove these animals in savage, haphazard ways and everyone suffers.

Yet coyotes can be killed without limitation in California and Oregon and nearly every other state. In fact, in the Pacific Northwest, coyotes are treated like garbage by the courts, which considers them “vermin.” There are little to no bag limits, no seasons, and, thanks to the abuse of legal loopholes, groups find ways to hold blood bath “killing contests” with large cash prizes to see who can kill the most of this beloved but maligned song dog. Working with Project Coyote, ALDF recently shut down an Oregon coyote killing contest and is in support of a proposed ban that would end predator killing contests in California permanently. Right now, you can help protect coyotes in Idaho from a killing contest bloodbath by leaving a public comment with the Bureau of Land Management.

Whether for their fundamental beauty, their cultural heritage as “trickster” in native communities, their dog-like, wolf-like complex family and social relationships, their intelligence, their playfulness, their importance to wild habitats, or for the simple fact that killing contests are dangerous and barbaric, the fact that these contests continue across our country every year is shocking.

But that’s not all humans do to coyotes. ALDF has long fought coyote and fox “penning” facilities. Penning is the practice of capturing wild animals to use as bait to train dogs to kill on hunts. Coyotes and foxes are trapped in leghold traps or snares, sold to penning facilities, where they are released into a small pen by hunting dogs who tear them to pieces for practice. Penning is legal in nearly 20 states.

Coyotes are persecuted on an even more regular basis too. ALDF, along with a strong coalition of conservation groups, is working hard to challenge the federal agency known as “Wildlife Services” and its war on native wildlife. Wildlife Services has become essentially a taxpayer-funded killing agency, recklessly killing coyotes and other animals on public lands at the behest of private ranchers. And that’s where much of the negative, inaccurate lore about coyotes comes from: the introduction of ranching.

Wildlife Services, much like killing contests, traps and kills coyotes haphazardly. The government agency kills millions of animals each year, spending more than $100 million to do so—killing tens of thousands of “non-target” animals and endangered species as well. In the past 14 years, they’ve killed more than a million coyotes. Their standard methods are inhumane and ineffective—despite the holocaust of coyote slaughter by this agency, and the suffering they’ve caused to sentient beings, the coyote population has tripled. Any wildlife agency worth its salt knows that killing coyotes leads to increased procreation. When left alone, coyotes regulate their own populations and help keep our wild places in working order. ALDF’s coalition and campaign shows ranchers that nonlethal predator control, and coexistence with native wildlife, is best for everyone. Marin County, California, for example, replaced Wildlife Services with nonlethal predator control and coyote predation was actually reduced by more than 60%.

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Wildlife Services has also been in the news because multiple employees have been caught torturing trapped coyotes. And that brings us to another part of the coyote’s sad saga. Coyotes, as shy, small, playful wild dogs, are vulnerable to the depraved minds that enjoy torturing beings who can’t protect themselves. Just last week, ALDF, along with the Animal Rescue Team, offered a cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator who tied and likely tortured a 6lb female coyote pup.

The way some humans treat animals often breaks our hearts—and our laws. The way some treat apex predators like our wild song dogs—coyotes and wolves–is also a pox on our cultural history and our inability to coexist with wildlife. But it’s something we can remedy with better understanding and better animal protection laws.

Originally published on ALDF.org.