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A new state law bans annual wildlife killing contests whose common targets are predators such as coyotes, fox, squirrels and bobcats.
The law, signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Dec. 22, will make illegal hunting competitions and tournaments involving certain species that award hunters cash and other prizes. It does not affect hunting to help manage wildlife population.
The legislation, which takes effect on Nov. 1, 2024, excludes contests for hunting white-tailed deer, turkeys and bears. It updates current hunting competition laws under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that oversees the state’s deer management program.
Once the law goes into effect, any wildlife killed during these activities become DEC property.
“Protecting wildlife is critical to fostering the integrity and resilience of our environment and our outdoor recreation economy,” Hochul said in a statement following the bill’s signing. “This legislation establishes strong safeguards for our state’s precious wildlife species and protects our important fishing and hunting traditions.”
For two decades the bill was worked on and promoted by a coalition of animal rights organizations who saw the killing contests as unethical and senseless slaughters and who supported science-based hunting practices to maintain a balanced wildlife ecosystem.
Some killing contest groups are hard to find, but others are on Facebook with names like Predator Slam, Squirrel Scramble and Final Fling for Fox. Contests typically challenge hunters to bag the heaviest coyote or the largest bunch of squirrels for cash prizes.
Last year the Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs of Sullivan County held its 15th annual three-day Coyote Hunt Contest last February and 124 coyotes were taken during the contest, setting a new record. The club claims monies raised from killing contests help fund youth programs and local fire departments.
Next month the same contest will award $2,000 for the heaviest coyote killed and is open to anyone with a valid hunting license in New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania. The $40 entry fee includes a free dinner and a gun raffle ticket.
Groups holding the contests consider predators like squirrels, coyotes or foxes as “nuisance” animals to justify their killing.
“Anyone can decide an animal is a ‘nuisance’ animal,” explained Michelle Land, professor of environmental law and policy at Pace University in Pleasantville and the chief faculty member of the Pace Animal Advocacy Clinic.
“But if you take out predators like coyotes, foxes and bobcats, you are removing an essential service in the ecosystem that keeps prey in check,” Land noted.
“Hunting predators means the prey population, such as rabbits and rodents, are going to explode and you will start seeing overgrazing and the increasing loss of native plants,” Land also explained. “Some predators will escape. With an abundance of prey available, there is no competition and female predators will produce more litters. In two years, you will see a rebound with more or the same number of predators.”
Key to efforts to finally get the bill passed and signed were 10 honor students in the Animal Policy Project at Pace’s Animal Advocacy Clinic. Last spring the students gathered 525 petition signatures from the college community supporting the bill. They personally delivered the petition to state officials in Albany to lobby for the bill’s passage.
“The students in the program created a campaign strategy and learned how to implement that strategy effectively,” said Land.
“Students had complete autonomy. They researched the issue, created social media platforms that addressed the issue, and reached out to other students for signatures,” she added. “They needed to convince some people, but the good lesson was they learned how to engage people on controversial topics.”
Land hopes the new law will address the need for more types of animal protection legislation and for in-depth studies that reveal actual numbers of animals killed during contests.
“This new law highlights advocacy efforts,” Land said. “Now is the time for there to be thoughtful, sophisticated, scientific studies on the impacts of animal killing contests and the removal of predators on the ecosystems.”
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/