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All Things Considered, July 6, 2007 · Environmental groups want the government to stop shooting coyotes from airplanes and have filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program demanding an end to the practice.
A Deadly Plane Crash
The petition comes on the heels of a fatal plane crash involving two agency employees who were pursuing coyotes on June 1 in South Central Utah. The coyotes had been preying on a rancher’s sheep.
The deaths of pilot Joseph Harris and gunner Glen Stevenson have drawn attention to the government’s practice and prompted animal protection and environmental groups to question the merit of the government’s aerial gunning program.
“Predator control is out of control when people are dying,” says Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, a group dedicated to protecting carnivorous animals and their habitats. Sinapu is the Ute Indian word for wolves.
A Cruel Practice?
Keefover-Ring is also concerned about the targets of the government’s aerial gunning program, which she calls cruel and, worse yet, ineffective.
“The federal government has been working to kill coyotes for the last 100 years using traps, poisons and guns, and the result has been they’ve actually expanded their range threefold,” Keefover-Ring says.
But the government insists that the aim of its aerial gunning program is not to kill all coyotes.
“We’re trying to resolve localized problems of wildlife predation or wildlife conflicts,” Bill Clay, USDA deputy administrator for Wildlife Services, says.
In rural areas, most of those conflicts are between coyotes and sheep. The USDA says ranchers lost about $11 million worth of lambs and sheep to coyotes in 2005.
So after a brief pause to review safety procedures and inspect the agency’s airplane fleet, pilots and gunners are back to hunting coyotes from the air.