Coyotes are back in the news. In early May, a hungry coyote clamped his canines on the forearm of a Downeast turkey hunter. The surprised hunter was decked out in camo and clucking away on his slate call. In a quirky twist of fate, the hunter is the Regional Wildlife Biologist for Washington County, Tom Schaeffer. It is Washington County, you may recall, that has a seriously declining deer population and an expanding coyote population. So there is no small irony here.
You can’t help but wonder whether this ironic incident has given Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin a chuckle, or a second thought. No doubt the coyote incident has sparked some razzing from his staff. Lest we forget, it was Commissioner Martin who made the wrong-headed decision about three years ago to “temporarily suspend” Maine’s statutorily created coyote control snaring program. At the time, Washington County, whose deer herd has been impacted the hardest by coyote and bear predation, was assured that the suspension would be just for one winter until the state could obtain an incidental take permit from the Feds.
“Temporary” is looking more and more like permanent. You can’t blame the Downeast sportsmen for running low on patience. The Washington County Conservation Association is exploring the possibility of bringing a civil action against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. No clear thinking people like litigation: it is an avenue of last resort. But sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. It was the mere threat of litigation by an animal rights group that intimidated Commissioner Martin (and the state Attorney General) enough so that he backed down on the snaring issue.
If Downeast sportsmen do take MDIF&W to court, it would be an interesting test case. The plaintiff could argue that Commissioner Martin shirked his constitutional obligation to protect the resource – in this instance, the struggling Downeast deer population. There are other compelling coyote snaring statistics that could be used in a civil case against the state.
According to Canaan outdoor writer Bob Noonan, coyote snaring is legal in 41 states and all of the Canadian provinces. Noonan writes, “…snares have been legal in New Jersey and Florida since the early 1970s.” He also points out that many of these states have high populations and that snares have caused no problems with pets.
As for the humane aspect of snares, Noonan reports that a highly authoritative study by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies found that snares are well above the margin for “acceptably humane.” This is a study that led a number of states to legalize snaring AFTER Maine suspended its coyote snaring program! In fact, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, according to Noonan, legalized snaring during Maine’s suspended program and its seemingly futile quest for a federal incidental take permit.
What is most irksome of all is that these other states, including Montana, are conducting their snaring programs without a federally approved incidental take permit!
Please go back and reread the previous sentence. It is key. And, if you have any sway with Commissioner Martin, you might consider calling the underlined fact to his attention. Getting Maine’s coyote snaring program back on track might keep our state Fish and Wildlife Department from doing legal battle – at least with the same sportsmen who pay most of the bills at MDIF&W.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal.He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.