Our coyote war in the West reminds me of the war in Iraq

 

"If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail," said psychologist Abraham Maslow.

As a wildlife ecologist here in the American West, I can't help but draw analogies between the Bush administration's foreign policy in Iraq and one of its proposed wildlife policies in the American West. Both rely on heavy-handed lethal approaches — using guns and killing when other approaches could work better.

As the war in Iraq drags on, at least three lessons are clear. First, there is a strong ethnic-religious component to the war that our military power seems unable to address. We're trying to use a hugely expensive military machine to grapple with religious fundamentalism, which is like using a gold-plated jackhammer to hoe a garden.

Second, the reasons used to justify the war — those weapons of mass destruction we could never find and the connection to Osama bin Ladin — turned out not to exist.

And third, our relentless bombing and killing of terrorists seems to make more religious extremists decide to be terrorists. In other words, the more terrorists we kill, the more we seem to make.

A recent proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to give the Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services agency the option to kill coyotes in wilderness areas — by poisoning and gunning them down from a helicopter or airplane — offers eerie similarities to the quagmire in Iraq.

A coyote is a four-legged critter that weighs around 40 pounds, like a medium-sized dog. It adapts to almost any environment, lives both alone and in families, and it performs necessary ecological functions in nature's grand food chain. Coyotes mainly eat rodents and other small animals, but sometimes they dine on free-roaming domestic sheep and calves that are grazing on public lands.

For decades, the U.S. government has responded by spending millions of dollars every year to kill coyotes by poisoning, trapping and aerial gunning. Here in Colorado where I live, the federal government spends about $1.8 million per year on Wildlife Services, a small portion of which goes to aerial gunning of coyotes on public lands. In the past, wilderness areas — places thought of with reverence by conservationists and the majority of American citizens — have been off-limits to aerial gunning.

And so the first similarity to Iraq is this: Even though there are many ways to control coyotes' preying on livestock, the Bush administration is choosing the most heavy-handed lethal option with complete disregard for human cultural institutions. The Forest Service is proposing to send airplanes and helicopters with guns into wilderness areas to shoot what is essentially a 40-pound wild dog.

The second similarity is equally intriguing. In the United States in 2004, coyotes and other domestic dogs killed about .1 percent of calves and about 3 percent of sheep. On public lands, those losses are significantly smaller, and in wilderness areas, those losses are absolutely miniscule. Again, the reason given to justify this aerial war — uncontrolled killing of livestock in wilderness by coyotes — turns out not to exist or is severely exaggerated.

The third similarity is downright eerie. Recent scientific studies have shown that coyotes are very resilient when it comes to federal killing programs. In fact, when some members of coyote families are killed, it causes other members to disperse and breed more rapidly. Their biological response mechanism seems to tell them they are under attack, and their reaction is to spread widely and bear even more pups. Indeed, since the U.S. government began extensively shooting, trapping and poisoning coyotes 150 years ago, the range and numbers of coyotes have expanded dramatically.

In other words, the more coyotes we kill, the more we seem to make.

There are many options to control coyotes' preying on livestock, such as guard dogs, fencing, techno-gizmos that scare off coyotes, actual range-riding cowboys on horseback and as a last resort: killing. They are all a part of a much larger option, which is learning to live with the non-human world around us, rather than constantly inventing war-like ways to kill and subdue it.

But that is not the trend here in the American West, nor in Iraq. The Bush administration is building hammers fast, and all it can see is nails.

Gary Wockner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of NewTowncarShare News (newtowncarshare.info). He is a writer and ecologist in Fort Collins, Colorado.



Editor's note: Comments on the coyote-gunning proposal can be sent by Aug. 7 to Forest Service, USDA, Attn: Director, Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Resources, 201 14th Street, SW., Washington, D.C. 20250; by electronic mail to [email protected]; or by fax to 202/ 205-1145.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of NewTowncarShare News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • available in Gothic, CO for 2019 summer season - Manager, Lead Cooks, Prep-Cooks, Dishwasher - at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). The Dining Hall...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.
  • More information: jobs.wisc.edu. Search 96076
  • Friends of the Verde River is looking for someone to join our team who has a keen investigative mind and is an excellent communicator and...
  • - Thriving Indie bookstore in Durango, CO. 1800 sf of busy retail space in a 3100 sf historic building. Long term lease or option to...
  • with home on one acre in Pocatello, ID. For information and photos visit www.blackrockforgeproperty.com.
  • The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is seeking a technical partner to develop a land management plan for the 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears Landscape in southeastern...
  • Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • on 3 acres near Moxon. 3 bd/1.5 bath, apt. Views/access to hiking, fishing, wildlife.1-207-593-6312. $165,900.
  • Senior position responsible for the development of all marketing and fundraising strategies to grow the base of philanthropic support and awareness of GSEP.
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • near Ennis, MT. Artist designed, 1900 SF, 2BR/2BA home on 11.6 acres with creek, tree, views, privacy. 406-570-9233 or [email protected] www.arrowreal.com (Country Homes).
  • Colorado Farm to Table is looking for a full-time energetic, creative Executive Director to lead our team in Salida.
  • Join HCN and Black Sheep Adventures on an expedition through the national parks and monuments of Utah and Southwest Colorado, September 7 - 15, 2019....