Letter: Hounding wildlife

Appeared in the Keene Sentinel, January 2022

A RECENT NEWS STORY reported the rescue of two radio-collared hounds that had chased a coyote onto an icy Androscoggin River. The coyote, caught in open water, “did not survive.” The owner of these dogs apparently lost contact with — and control of — the dogs, a common occurrence with coyote or bear hounding. The dogs were fortunate, this time.

You might wonder why dogs are trained to chase down and destroy other dogs — coyotes are also members of the dog family — so here are some interesting facts:

New Hampshire Fish and Game rules do not preclude anyone from engaging in this so-called sport. Packs of hounds are bred and trained to run a coyote to exhaustion and then kill it by tearing it apart. It is gruesome and akin to dog fighting. While dog fighting has been illegal since 1976 and a felony offense in all 50 states since 2008, this very similar activity of hounding coyotes to death is allowed by our state Fish and Game Department. These rules put no limit on the numbers of coyotes a person can kill and at a recent Fish and Game biennial hearing, one man proudly boasted that he and his hounds had already chased and killed 100 coyotes this year.

This loathsome practice is far removed from a fair chase that might give the quarry a fighting chance and should be banned solely on the basis of ethics. Once hounds get the scent of a coyote, the animal is pursued by the pack of dogs until it is cornered and turns to defend itself. The coyote is at a great disadvantage though. Dogs are faster in the long run and have more stamina. They are well-fed and rested before a chase; in the wild, coyotes rest only sporadically and are rarely well fed. Like all wild creatures, a coyote’s survival is day to day, using instinct and wits. Unlike bears which are also chased by hounds, coyotes cannot climb a tree to escape.

Coyote hounding can occur all year long. Hounds are trained during the summer and give chase through the fall and winter. Coyotes mate January through March, whelp March through June. Often, coyote pups, left stranded when parents are killed, starve to death. (Hunting is allowed 365 days a year and at night during their breeding season. It is the only New Hampshire predator with no reprieve.)

Coyotes have historically been viewed as varmints or nuisance animals. They are, in fact, a valuable predator that arrived here following the extermination of the wolf and the mountain lion. Coyotes feed primarily on rabbits, rodents and vegetation but will scavenge or take the occasional deer, especially during the winter. They are a natural control for species like white-footed mice that carry deer ticks that cause Lyme disease misery. If this predator wasn’t useful or necessary in our woods and fields, they would not be here.

So, how is it that Fish & Game, the folks entrusted to conserve and protect our public wildlife, is so willing to play into the hands of a tiny minority of the population who so callously kill for the sake of killing? This is neither protection nor conservation.

Wildlife belongs to all of us. For the sake of wild creatures, we cannot turn a blind eye to this abuse.

Christine Schadler is an ecologist living in Webster. She is a co-founder of the N.H. Wildlife Coalition, chair of the Webster Conservation Commission and the N.H. and Vt. representative to Project Coyote.

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