BISBEE — Though not a total win for wildlife conservation leaders, they are happy with the decision of the Arizona Game and Fish (AzG&F) Commission to ban fees and awards for wildlife killing contests.

Such killing contests are held across Arizona and wildlife conservationists have joined together to end the practice of killing as many coyotes, bobcats, foxes and mountain lions, as well as other species, as possible during a day. The hunters who kill the most of a species, or the largest of the predator species, or a range of species, win money and prizes from various sporting goods companies. The claim of organizers for the contests is they eliminate problem predators.

On Friday, the commission voted unanimously to approve a Notice of Final Rulemaking which designates a predator or fur-bearing species hunting contest an unlawful manner and method of take for these species, according to AzG&F. Predatory animals are coyotes, bobcats, foxes and skunks. Fur-bearing animals are weasels, raccoons, beavers, badgers, ringtail cats, muskrats, otters and bobcats.

The intent of the rule is to “address social concerns over formally organized and publicized contests that award prizes to competitors who kill the largest number or variety of predators or fur-bearing animals, as these are the types of events that have caused the strongest public objection,” stated AzG&F. “For the purposes of the rule, ‘contest’ means a competition where participants must register or record entry and pay a fee, and prizes or cash are awarded to winning or successful participants.”

The prohibition would apply to the use of “any lethal method of take during a hunting contest for predatory and fur-bearing animals.” A contest with no entry fees, prizes or awards would still be permitted.

During the public comment period, which ran from April 12 to May 12, AzG&F received more than 4,800 comments.

Kate Scott, co-owner of the Mandrean Archipelago Wildlife Center in Elgin, said Monday that 3,265 people wrote in to support the new rule, with 423 opposed. She spoke at a meeting of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors in April and asked the board to take a stand against what she views as the practice of wanton killing.

Scott attended the meeting in Phoenix Friday and told commissioners: “It is critically important to make revisions to the regulation. It’s encouraging that Commissioner Kurt Davis has stated that contests are unethical and illegitimate.”

Doug Treadway, a former hunter and big-game guide, said, “Arizona Game and Fish has the golden opportunity to right the wrongs by eliminating predator control through killing contests. When is the wasteful killing of wildlife ever justified?”

Betsy Klein, I AM Wolf Nation Executive Director, told them killing contests “run contrary to two important tenets” of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation which are “one cannot take or use wildlife for economic benefit and which prohibit the take or use for wasteful, illegitimate or unsportsmanlike purposes.

“I believe Commissioner Davis said it best when he said it is the responsibility of the Commission to ensure their rules uphold the highest ethical principles, and they prohibit the take and use of wildlife for economic and illegitimate purposes. As stewards of all wildlife, we owe this to present and future generations. While the rule leaves room for these atrocities to continue, it is a step in the right direction.”

Public speakers agreed they would have preferred a “clear, unequivocal stand” against all killing contests.

Commissioner Davis supported the measure and stated, “To the extent these contests reflect on the overall hunting community, public outrage with these events has the potential to threaten hunting as a legitimate wildlife management function. Regulated hunting fundamentally supports wildlife conservation efforts in North America. The loss of hunting would equate to a measurable loss in conservation efforts and would represent a failure of the Commission to fulfill its duty to conserve wildlife for the beneficial use of current and future generations.”

The rule would not apply to lawful, regulated hunting of predators and fur-bearing animals, which plays an important role in wildlife management, stated AzG&F.

Scott told the Herald/Review, “Thirty people stood before the commission last Friday and urged them to close all the loopholes, but they did not. We hope hunters respect the intent of the rule and that the commission enforces the rule. We have already found out that contest participants and organizers are talking about how easy it will be to circumvent the rule due to how it is worded.”

It now goes to the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council (GRRC) for review. If GRRC approves the rule, it could become effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Over the past two years, Dewey-Humboldt, Flagstaff, and Coconino and Yavapai counties passed resolutions condemning such events. Tucson and Pima County passed similar resolutions. Cochise County has not taken any action.

Project Coyote stands against killing contests

“We commend the Commission for adopting a rule to crack down on wildlife killing contests for predatory and furbearing species including coyotes and foxes,” said Matt Francis, Arizona state representative for Project Coyote. “While we have concerns that potential loopholes may allow these contests to continue, we were pleased to hear that Commissioner Davis is committed to amending the rule if necessary to prevent participants from evading the ban. We all want the same thing: to end the cruel and ecologically destructive killing of the public’s wildlife for no good reason.”

Project Coyote stated: “There is no credible evidence that indiscriminate killing of coyotes succeeds in increasing the abundance of game species such as deer or pheasants. Rather than focusing on any one species, coyotes are opportunists who eat a diverse diet including small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects, fruit and vegetables. Rabbits and rodents are generally their top choice.”