On June 21, 2023, the first day of summer, the sun was not only shining in the sky, it was shining on a new day for New York’s wildlife, as the state moved legislation forward to become the 9th state in the United States to ban hunting contests, a major win for wildlife.

There have been hunting contests in the state for years targeting a range of wildlife from coyotes to squirrels. In each contest, prizes are awarded for quantity, size, and other identifying features of a particular species. All are designed to kill the largest number of target animals in the shortest time. For example, red and black squirrels, as compared to gray squirrels, killed in Germantown’s annual squirrel hunt garner more points for the hunter.

These wildlife killing contests have long been hailed as unethical, inhumane, and ineffective by many environmental and animal rights organizations, including groups such as Protect the Adirondacks and the Humane Society. In 2020, the biggest coyote hunting contest in New York State, sponsored by the Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs of Sullivan County, boasted 636 hunters who had registered for the three-day competition. In the end, 118 coyotes were killed and brought in for weighing. The winner brought in a 50.3 pound female coyote that he shot over bait in Sullivan County. His prize was $2,440, $2000 for the heaviest coyote and $200 for the heaviest coyote killed on Sunday and $240 for three additional coyotes killed. Of the 29 annual hunting contests in New York State 17 are focused on killing coyotes.

Like all predator species, coyotes are crucial members of their ecosystem. Not only do they help in dispersing seeds by depositing seed-filled scat widely, they also help maintain healthy numbers of prey animal species, a boon for farmers facing crop damage from rodents.  Coyotes are also scavengers that clean up our communities of dead wildlife, known as carrion.

Up until this legislation, there were eight states that had successfully legislated to ban killing contests, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Vermont, and Massachusetts.  New York Assemblymember Deborah Glick sponsored bill A.2917 that would make New York State the ninth.  Glick spoke out saying that she had received numerous emails from New Yorkers from all over the state, including messages from hunters, ranchers, and upstate organizations. “They find that the contests undermine the way in which people view hunting in general,” she said.

While hunting is common, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation recognizes that eliminating coyotes lethally on a wide scale, such as during a hunting contest, is “neither practical nor effective.”  In asking for a vote on her bill Glick went on to say that she believes, “based on the information provided by wildlife management and scientists, that this (her bill) is an appropriate measure.”

In fact, killing contests can make coyote issues worse. When so many coyotes are killed en masse, coyotes react by having bigger litters of pups. In addition, the loss of experienced adults translates to the young survivors hunting easier prey like pets and livestock. Another result of hunting contests is that often hunters end up killing non-offending coyotes.

The bill, S.4099, sponsored by Senator Tim Kennedy, passed by a vote of 46-15 on June 7 in the State senate and Glick’s bill passed in the Assembly by a vote of 86-54 on June 21. It is now headed to Governor Kathy Hochul for final approval. The legislation was not only supported widely by residents and organizations, but also many hunters and more than 50 farmers.

The passing of this bill demonstrates again that citizens can make a difference for wildlife by raising their voices in support of important legislation. While these elected officials crafted these bills, the organizations who helped to spread the word and gain support were instrumental in its passing. Everyone who called, emailed and wrote to their representatives helped this legislation pass.


Update January 2nd 2024

New York received an early Christmas gift!

After continued pleas from animal protection and conservation groups, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation S 4099/A.2917 to protect NYS wildlife by making hunting contests, competitions, tournaments, and derbies that allowed for the take of large numbers of wildlife unlawful on December 22, 2023.

Although the legislations excludes contests for hunting white-tailed deer, turkeys, bears, and fishing contests, it will make a huge impact on the state’s environment. “Today is a win for every animal that was previously targeted by these cruel contests,” said Regan Downey, director of education at the Wolf Conservation Center. “We applaud Gov. Hochul’s decision to sign A.2917/S.4099 into law. New Yorkers value humane and science-based approaches to wildlife management and we are thankful to finally have a policy that reflects these values in our backyard. Killing contests have no place in the 21st century, nor do they have a place in New York.”

New York State became the 10th state to stop the slaughter of wildlife for cash and prizes.

credit - Nancy F. Castaldo

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