Albany, N.Y. (AP) — Contests have names like “Predator Slam,” “Squirrel Scramble,” and “Final Fling for Foxes,” and sometimes challenge hunters to bag the heaviest coyote or heaviest squirrel herd for a prize.
While participants seek prey in the name of fundraising, animal rights activists are turning to contests they deem senseless slaughter. Following bans in eight states, activists are now turning to New York, where Gov. Kathy Hochul is considering a proposal recently approved by Congress.
“It’s wrong to say that the fringes who participate in these extreme contests can use our wildlife resources for money,” said Brian Shapiro, New York state director of the American Humane Society. “I can’t think of any other natural resource that is exploited in that way.”
Opponents want to cancel annual events around upstate New York targeting wildlife such as coyotes, rabbits, raccoons and foxes. Campaigns against the contest often feature pictures of piles of coyote carcasses and other gruesome scenes.
But the proposed ban highlights a cultural divide between its supporters and those who unfairly demonize rural life.
“It’s all about emotion when it comes to this. They throw logic out the window,” said David Libig, who lives in rural upstate and is executive director of the New York State Trapper Association.
Liebig said the event will bring together families and raise money for fire departments and other community groups. He was outraged by accusations that they were “just a bloodbath.”
Contests of this kind have been held all over the country for decades. Animal rights groups were able to track 22 in New York last year, but there may be more. Shapiro believes that only a “very small number” of the roughly 580,000 licensed hunters in New York will participate in the competition.
Coyotes and more broadly wildlife contests are already banned in eight states, including California, Colorado and Arizona, according to the Humane Society. Wildlife regulators in Massachusetts pointed to public concerns, such as encouraging indiscriminate killing, when they banned certain predators and fur-owner hunting contests in 2019.
Oregon plans to vote on the ban in September.
A New York law would make it illegal to organize, conduct, promote or participate in competitions where wild animals are harvested for prizes or entertainment. People would still be able to hunt animals just by not participating in contests.
This measure does not apply to contests involving white-tailed deer, bears or turkeys. Animal rights groups argue that existing hunting regulations, including baggage restrictions, tend to protect these animals.
Congressional patron Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, said her bill was aimed at a “grisly and futile” contest. Many of the animals are edible and coyotes have value as pelts, but opponents argue that too often animals killed during the contest end up in the trash.
One annual event that draws criticism and hundreds of participants is a three-day coyote hunt in Sullivan County, largely rural northwestern New York City. The organizers will offer a top prize of $2,000 to the hunter with the heaviest coyote.
Sullivan County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs president John Van Etten said the contest is raising up to $12,000 to fund youth programs and local fire departments.
He thinks opposition to competition is misplaced.
“I don’t think the people who want to ban these contests really understand them,” Van Etten said.
“They don’t understand hunting or why people are killing coyotes. Contest or not, they will continue to hunt,” he said.
The contest has also been advocated as a way to curb wildlife populations, especially coyote populations, which in some areas are seen as pests that kill livestock.
Proponents of the ban argue that the best available evidence does not support the assertion that the competition is coyote-controlled. Rather, ban proponents argue that competition may actually encourage coyote reproduction by destabilizing the herd.
His office said Ho-chul, a Democrat, is considering the bill. The bill is one of the bills she is considering signing this year.
The bill passed a Democratic-led Congress in June, ignoring Republican claims that it represented an attack on local practices by urban stakeholders.
“This anti-hunting bill is yet another example of big-city legislators’ indifference and imposing their will on voters,” Republican Congressman Steve Hawley said in a press release.
Proponents argue that the ban targets useless contests, not all hunting. Wildlife regulators in other states say the controversial contest could undermine public support for traditional hunting.
Shapiro challenges the rural-versus-urban framework, pointing to rural advocates, including hunters and farmers.
“They are people who live upstate,” Shapiro said. “I live in the North. This is an imagined divide.”