Frye: Bounties a waste of effort, money

Bob Frye
| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

Aldo Leopold would be appalled.

He's considered in many ways the father of modern game management. A scientist, forester and professor, he spent his early career with the U.S. Forest Service, assigned to hunt and kill bears, wolves and mountain lions in the American Southwest. It was a job he initially took to with enthusiasm, given his “trigger itch” and belief that every predator eliminated meant a “hunter's paradise” of more deer in the woods.

Before he died, though, he came to see those species as an important part of the larger landscape.

He didn't become a “greenie,” an environmentalist who believed man has no place in the woods, especially if it involves killing. Leopold remained a hunter.

But as he outlined in his classic book, “A Sand County Almanac” — required reading for any sportsman conservationist — having a true “land ethic” means understanding that every plant and animal is an important piece of the whole.

Not everyone sees things that way when it comes to coyotes, though.

From coast to coast, they can inspire loathing because they dare to eat deer. That thinking this week led 21 state lawmakers to introduce House Bill 1534, which would allow, if not require, the Pennsylvania Game Commission to spend up to $700,000 a year to pay hunters to kill coyotes, at a rate of $25 per animal.

What absolute folly.

Bounty programs exist in a few places across the country. Virginia and Texas allow individual counties to enact programs. Utah went to a statewide bounty this past year, which led to 7,160 coyotes — far short of the 20,000 lawmakers had predicted — being turned in at a cost to taxpayers of about $381,000.

The head of West Virginia's agriculture department this spring proposed having conservation officers capture, mark and release coyotes with ear tags good for cash prizes ranging from $100 to $1,000. The hope, he was quoted as saying, was that hunters would kill a bunch of untagged coyotes in their search for the ones worth money.

But most bounty programs have rightfully died. Hopefully, Pennsylvania's won't even get born.

Forget that bounties are hugely expensive. Forget that they don't attract as much participation as you'd expect. Forget that they spark fraud and cheating. Forget that they give sportsmen a black eye among much of the public.

They just don't work.

“As long as there is sufficient prey, coyote populations are going to be what they're going to be,” said commission executive director Carl Roe.

It's possible to suppress localized populations in the short term, he said, but “compensatory reproduction” that sees coyotes give birth to larger litters more often when persecuted kicks in almost immediately and drives their numbers back.

Maybe lawmakers don't know that. But this legislation sure seems like a case of them standing up, waving their arms and telling constituents, “Hey, look at us, we're doing something,” even if it's doomed to fail at great expense.

I was told once that the scariest sentence in the English language is, “I'm here from the government, and I'm here to help.” This makes me believe it.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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