A coyote killing contest that took place in Modoc County Saturday and Sunday has raised questions about hunting on public lands.
Wildlife protection groups tried to stop the hunt, an annual event partly organized by the Adin Supply Co., partly on the grounds that it was likely to violate land use restrictions in the area.
The opponents also argued that it jeopardized California's only known wild wolf, who might resemble a coyote to an untrained hunter.
But "0R7," as biologists call the wolf, survived the fusillade directed at the area's coyotes. A transmitter he wears suggests that he is currently roaming Plumas County.
Adin Supply Co. owner Steve Gagnon, pronounced the hunt a success. "It went great," he told me. "There was an incredible amount of support, more than I could have imagined."
About 240 people came to town for the hunt he said, nearly doubling Adin's population of 279 for the weekend. "It went without a hitch," he said. "It was very smooth and very legal."
He said he didn't know how many coyotes were killed or who won the contest, referring questions to Buck Parks, president of the Pit River Rod and Gun Club. Parks did not return my calls.
The legality of the hunt came into question in the weeks leading up to it. Opponents garnered letters from government land managers, including the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. national forests, saying that the organizers had not applied for permits to hunt on public land.
"This is not a BLM-sponsored nor permitted event on public land this year, and BLM has not issued a special recreation permit for the hunt in previous years," said Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Mary Lou West in an email. "In general, individuals are allowed to hunt on public lands consistent with California Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations, but not as part of an organized event unless permitted through a special recreation permit."
According to a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, there is no season for coyote hunting in California, or limit in the number of coyotes an individual can kill.
Gagnon interpreted the law to mean that individual participants could kill coyotes on public land as part of the hunt if the actual organization of the hunt didn't take place on public land.
Posted rules for the hunt state that "no geographic boundaries have been made."
"That doesn't make sense," Camilla Fox, executive director of Project Coyote told me.
"Our concern, as manifested in this particular hunt, is that contest sponsors far too frequently don't obtain the necessary permits to hunt on public lands and don't inform participants about lands that are off limits to predator hunts."
So far I haven't been able to reach West about the question of when a hunt is "organized," and therefore requires a permit, and when it is not.
Shortly after I published this post, I heard back from the Bureau of Land Management. Doran Sanchez, deputy director of external affairs for California, told me the hunt took place entirely on private land. "This was a private event by private sponsors on private land," he said. "The organizers were provided maps of adjacent public lands and they were informed that their event could not go on public lands. And that's what happened. The participants remained on private lands."
I asked what would happen if, as Steve Gagnon suggested, an individual involved in the contest crossed onto BLM land to shoot a coyote. He said he'd call me back.
Instead I got a call from Jeff Fontana, a BLM public affairs officer, who said any organized event where money is collected on BLM lands would require a permit from the agency -- not just a hunt, but a automobile race, a footrace or any other event.
On the other hand, he said, BLM does not require any special permit for hunters who are not part of an organized group. The hunters just have to comply with state hunting laws.
I again posed the question about an individual participant in the coyote killing contest entering public land. "If someone wandered onto public lands I don't know," he said. "That would require a little more legal knowledge than I have."