Copyright © 2007
Frank Turkowski


BITES FROM

COYOTES, TRAPPERS, SHEEPHERDERS AND URBANITES

 

COYOTE PEOPLE -

THOSE WHO MAKE THE CONTROVERSY

It is unlikely that coyotes perceive that they provoke controversy or any other thoughts or emotions from humans. Coyotes do not think about controversial subjects like politics, animal rights, wildlife management, or trapping. State boundaries or other kinds established by humanity, including livestock fences, are also of little consequence to them. While we discuss them, write about them, try to control or save them, coyotes go about their lives being predators. We, as humans, create controversy. People, not coyotes, create vocations like government trappers; people choose to raise sheep, be sheepherders and decide whether they will live in the city and be urbanites. When Canis latrans takes what Homo sapiens has or wants, conflicts increase.

Government trappers and wildlife researchers encounter a variety of persons with diverse viewpoints who are also involved with coyotes. To provide a better understanding of the world that revolves around the coyote, let me indulge myself and define “coyote people” according to their composite beliefs and activities, and how they fit into my story. We are all individuals, and it is not always justifiable to label and put people into categories. However, being human, we tend to categorize others and identify with groups who think as we do and may even have the same prejudices. We hold allegiance to these tribes, though our attitudes can expand or change from time to time. As for myself, I fit under several of these labels. I believe that each group can contain those who have glorious characteristics as well as the frail traits of human nature. I must add that, when I describe the categories of coyote people, it is not always without bias. Thus, some people may not approve of the descriptions of individuals or groups, especially as they apply to their relationship with the coyote.

In my opinion, we all take ourselves too seriously, especially when we are on our soapboxes. I am not opposed to making fun of myself from time to time. Maybe it would be a more enjoyable world if we all learned to laugh at ourselves as well as others, and even to laugh together in spite of our differences. Rather than dwell on how we disagree, maybe we should strive to find what we have in common. Doing so will allow us to understand each other better and our various points of view regarding how we treat animals and the environment. Who knows, this might encourage more of us to cooperate when we can, and do what is best for humanity as well as other living things and the earth.

The coyote, of course, is not “people”, though some think of it that way and attribute anthropomorphic human traits to it. The howling coyote is the symbol of the American wilderness. Attitudes about this native canine have varied and evolved over the years. When we were an agricultural society, more of us knew the coyote more intimately. The coyote was our neighbor. If it left us alone, then it was a good neighbor. Sometimes it was an interesting neighbor, and it could be an annoying neighbor. A coyote that killed one of our lambs, kids, or chickens might be considered a bad neighbor, especially if we were financially challenged. Today, words like coyote and predator are taking on new meanings as we observe these wild animals come into American suburbs and cities to prey on our puppies and kittens.

Government trappers have had official titles over the years such as Mammal Control Agent, Wildlife Specialist or Animal Damage Control Specialist. County, state, or United States government funds, cooperating agriculturists or various combinations of such pay their salaries and expenses. The trapper’s main job is to prevent predator and rodent damage to livestock and crops. Recently, many are becoming more involved in urban animal damage control. Government trapper activities across the entire United States might deal with depredations of animals varying from coyotes and bobcats, to rats and mice, to bears and birds. Government trappers perceive themselves as people who are helping others to protect their property. They see themselves as the good guys and coyotes as the bad guys, or at least they perceive the damaging ones as such. Others claim that government trappers are killers that wear the black hats of villains.

Included in the government trapper vocational group is a variety of outdoor types from young college graduates to experienced octogenarians. They may vary from looking like cowboys to preppies. Many have a vast knowledge of the outdoors and the ways of animals. After all, they can get a coyote to put its foot on the small pan of a steel trap (most of the time). Their agricultural friends consider them a necessity to keep coyotes from putting them out of business. Certain other individuals or groups would like to put all trappers out of business.

Sheepherders (shepherds), at least the kind that I knew and that are discussed in my memoirs, worked mostly in the western United States. For many years, they camped alone in mountain meadows during the summer and fall and cared for bands of sheep. Sheepherders usually worked on foot and were often accompanied by a herding dog while they protected the flock and led it to grazing areas and water. For years, they participated in annual sheep drives that corresponded to the availability of seasonal livestock forage in the mountains and low valleys. In the fall, sheep were moved from the mountains to the low valleys where they were pastured during the winter lambing season. . . .

Other descriptions in the book of coyote people include: Sheep ranchers, Goat Ranchers, Cattle Ranchers, Farmers, Urbanites, Animal Rights Activists, Environmentalists, Hound Hunters, Fur Trappers and Predator Hunters, Industrialists, Publishers And Entrepreneurs, Bureaucrats, Politicians, University Professors, Wildlife Researchers, The Public, Coyote Writers.

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AN OPINION OF GREAT CONTROVERSY

What's It All About

The helpless baby lamb bleated pitifully as the pair of adult coyotes and their nearly full-grown pups, which were inexperienced at killing, attacked it. The pack of hungry energized predators tore away skin, deep flesh and otherwise mutilated their tiny victim. The lamb's distressed mother, exhausted from her frantic attempts to defend her baby against the darting, dashing and slashing killers, could only watch helplessly as the hungry predators began eating her only offspring while it was still alive. A day after the sheep rancher reported this act of predation, a frightened coyote struggled to free itself from a steel foothold trap. A bullet from the government trapper's pistol ended the predator's life. It was early autumn and the pelt would be of no value, so the carcass was discarded. Hopefully, this would end the depredations, but most likely, more livestock would be preyed upon and more coyotes would have to be killed.

Purposefully, this is an emotion-provoking opening to a discussion about predator control and our relationships with other living things. Nevertheless, such scenarios occur when coyote parents are teaching their young how to hunt and government trappers are asked to stop such predation on livestock. . .

Currently, it is “politically correct” to oppose killing animals or using them in certain ways for our benefit. Thus, it is probable that more people would approve of my writing and I would sell more books if I condemn trapping, animal control, hunting and certain other human interactions with other living things. However, some attitudes concerning these subjects are reasonable and some are not. There are many sides to the story of how humans relate to other animals. I would like to delve into some aspects of this story that are told less often knowing that some people become angered when you lead them to think or rethink.

Opinions regarding our relationship with other living things flourish. These include views regarding the control of damaging predators and rodents, how wildlife should be managed or not managed, and how domestic animals should be treated. Some of these viewpoints are based completely on emotion and others are devised only through logic. Maybe the correct perspective is somewhere in between these extremes. Agriculturalists, sportsmen who hunt, trap and fish, those who slaughter animals, and people who control damaging rodents and predators, as I have done, are often criticized for the deaths and suffering they cause. Such displeasure may be the opinion of certain individuals or come as a collective viewpoint from members of animal rights and environmental groups or others.

For decades, whether I agreed with people or not, I paid attention to their opinions on subjects relating to our interactions with animals. Therefore, it seems to be fair that I should be able to offer my observations, thoughts and opinions on this subject and related ones. It is known that the well-being of all living things, including humans, depend mostly on factors that benefit us all. However, you can’t always promote human needs without causing some inconvenience or worse to other living things. Therefore, I believe some attitudes about animal rights and our relationships with nature are somewhat idealistic. When considering the welfare of humans or beasts, I tend to give priority to that which favors our species. My opinions that follow are sometimes irreverent, lighthearted, or serious but I believe they present a realistic analysis. Hopefully, this discussion will illustrate the fact that we all interact with animals, plants and the environment in one way or another to survive and promote our ways of life. None of us is perfect concerning how we treat other living things and otherwise interact with nature, as we shall see. Yet, we seem to be constantly choosing sides and condemning each other because we think and act differently regarding these doctrines. In this regard, I believe we should try to understand each other and consider why we are driven to do what we do so we can better manage ourselves, other living things and the rest of our environment. . .

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More Questions Than Answers

Are animals here to serve us, or, are we here to serve them, or are we here to serve each other? Do animals and plants have the same rights as humans? Attitudes about these topics, and predator and rodent damage control methods, hunting, fur trapping, animal husbandry and the treatment of pets are all intertwined.

Let us consider several facts of life. Most of us are not going to give up using animals any more than we would give up other factors that perpetuate our way of living such as automobiles. No matter what our views are, every human being uses animals to suit their personal needs and directly or indirectly causes them some stress, pain or death. In order for all of us to survive, we have to kill animals whether we eat plants, meat or otherwise use animal or plant products. To stay alive, we must change the environment or otherwise influence living things in some way. Even those who accuse, condemn and criticize others who have caused discomfort and deaths to animals, do so themselves in some way. Therefore, in my judgment, we should stop pointing the finger of blame at each other in this regard. Instead, whenever feasible, we should work together to reduce unnecessary inhumane treatment of animals in all our interactions with them.

The ways trapping, hunting, fishing, and many animal husbandry practices influence different animal species are paradoxical. Of course, some of these activities, as well as predator and rodent damage control methods and other wildlife management practices, are harmful to individual animals. However, we should ask why are some of the most heavily controlled, hunted, fished, and trapped animals among the most abundant and healthiest of species? Apparently, culling and reducing numbers benefits the individuals that are left as well as their habitat. The effects of overcrowding are evident in many species as it often leads to stunted body development, susceptibility to disease and other problems including habitat damage that often affects a variety of species, including humans.

With proper management, some species can be harvested without endangering them and some cannot. For example, in many states with high white tailed deer hunter success rates, these game animals still become so abundant, even in hunted areas, that they destroy and reduce the carrying capacity of their own habitat and many starve to death or may cause damage to valuable agricultural crops. Many of the crops they damage are those sought for consumption by strict anti-hunting anti-animal control vegetarian animal rights activists. In some areas, overpopulated deer herds eat themselves to starvation by destroying the natural habitat. If we think humanely, we wouldn’t want deer to become so starved that they strip the bark from trees and otherwise deplete their habitat to find nourishment. Some areas overrun by prey animals also have large predator populations that do not always hold the prey animals at healthy levels. Overpopulation and the resulting starvation of many hoofed animals are at times also evident in national parks where hunting or other population control activities of predators and their abundant prey are restricted.

Sportsmen who hunt and fish are often criticized for taking surplus animals, but as a group, they donate millions of dollars, time and effort to benefit animal species just as animal rights activists do. In addition to this, hunting and fishing license fees go toward benefiting wildlife. Like animal rights activists and environmentalists, hunters, trappers, anglers, and agriculturist are also nature lovers. Most sportsmen also care about fellow humans. Many states maintain systems that allow hunters to donate many tons of meat to needy persons through game department sponsored hunter-processor programs. There are also programs that allow hunters to donate game permits to non-profit organizations for use by children who have life-threatening medical conditions.

Federal, state and other agencies responsible for the management of coyotes, other predators and fur bearers are not perfect and therefore not all of their practices should be condoned without evaluating them first. Government agencies responsible for animal damage control, being bureaucracies, occasionally waste money, kill animals unnecessarily and may even agitate the "balance of nature" (if there is such a thing on lands settled by humans) just as private citizens sometimes do. To their credit, many animal control agencies and wildlife management organizations are aware of the various animal damage problems and have spent millions of dollars, time and effort to find more effective, humane and non lethal methods to prevent noxious animals from damaging livestock and crops. Many landowners, including ranchers who raise cattle for slaughter are good stewards of the land and participate in federal, state or other agricultural land, water and wildlife habitat conservation programs. . .

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What Goes Around . . .

. . .Considering all previous deliberations, I often think about how humans interact with other species and our planet. It is evident that all of us, by merely living, directly or indirectly cause inconveniences or worse to animals and adversely affect the environment. Some of us realize this and some do not. I also consider how we treat our pets, wild animals and the living things we raise for food, clothing, labor, and companionship. With all this in mind, I often wonder about which of us are most humane.

I think about ranchers and farmers who raise sheep, cattle, and chickens and people who slaughter food animals and citizens who eat hamburgers or tofu. I reflect on loving pet owners who pamper their pedigreed animal companions and feed them fancy pet foods. I think about ranchers and farmers who have working cow dogs that eat table scraps and run free over many acres and who encourage their cats to eat mice and rats. I think about celebrities who will not wear fur coats, those that do, and the activists who throw paint on those coats while wearing leather or plastic shoes. I consider how hunters, fur trappers, fishermen and others reap nature’s bounty. We all perceive nature differently. I have good feelings when I fish and hunt for sport and meat for our table and make an instant clean kill, and have bad feelings from knowing what happens in some pet animal shelters [because of the millions of animals that are killed there] and homes.

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Who Will Cast The First Stone

It is obvious that many of us will continue to fish, hunt and trap. Why shouldn’t some of us live in ways similar to early humans and the American pioneers if we so choose? Most of us will never give up eating animals or using them for a multitude of other purposes. Someone has to raise or sacrifice animals for us to eat meat or to protect plant foods for those that do not eat animals. Shouldn’t we appreciate those who so serve us? Nonetheless, many people are demanding that these legitimate activities be banned or regulated beyond reason. I believe we should manage nature for our benefit but do not suggest that we shouldn’t protect living things or the planet when we can. Sometimes we can be predators and sometimes we should be protectors. To benefit future generations and ourselves we should protect endangered plants and animals and those we cannot harvest without risk.

Let us also consider the holier-than-thou attitude some of us have toward others regarding interactions with other living things and the earth. How many of us who accuse and condemn others for suffering caused by animal damage control methods, agriculture, medical research, hunting, trapping, and other human activities are themselves otherwise contributing to animal misery and deaths and degrading habitats? In my opinion, before we pass judgment on others, we should all evaluate ourselves to determine how we have selfishly used other living things to our advantage and their disadvantage, including our own species, and why. Considering all these aspects of being human and knowing that we are all imperfect, I look in the mirror from time to time, do you? As a consumer, a trapper, a hunter, a pet owner, and a zoologist, though I usually tried to minimize these outcomes, I have caused inconvenience, pain, suffering and death to animals. Sometimes I did these things to assist fellow humans and to benefit other living things, while otherwise my actions were to satisfy personal wishes.

Most of us know the story of a crowd of people who judged and condemned a fellow human for wrongdoing. An assemblage gathered to punish and stone the transgressor to death. Yet all those in the crowd who condemned and intended to inflict punishment had committed offenses themselves. I may point to contradictions in thought and action, including my own; however, I shall not throw stones at others. Moreover, let us ask, regarding our relationships with animals, the earth or each other, who really stands without sin? Let him, or her, cast the first stone!

In conclusion, I have thoughts that are realistic, idealistic, or suggest I do not understand human nature. I’ll let you decide. We all have rights as citizens to express our opinions and to follow our beliefs regarding how humankind should relate to animals, plants, and everything else on the planet. We can improve laws and wildlife management policies by critical thinking, responsible voting and other legal actions. We should also attempt to understand each other and our needs. Again, I point to the amazing life-saving medical miracles resulting from the use of laboratory test animals. These medical advances have not only benefited humanity but have saved many times more animal lives than were originally sacrificed to bring these developments about. Let’s think carefully before we decide if we should be allowed to use or not use animals and other gifts of nature.

Human uses of animals and the land are inevitable. So, rather than misdirecting our assets by condemning and otherwise being at odds with each other about how we use them, we should cooperate to improve ways we interact with these resources. Let us educate people about breeding and raising pets and understanding their needs. Let’s find more humane ways to maintain and slaughter food animals. In addition, we can improve methods to control animal damage to livestock and crops and other necessary measures, including protection of the environment. We can make trapping more selective, humane, and otherwise benefit animals when it is practical to do so. We can do much of this without jeopardizing humans, our livelihoods, or ways of life. By combining our efforts, we can improve life for us all rather than spending so much time, energy and funds attacking each other and defending ourselves. Think of what we can accomplish to benefit other living things, the earth, and ourselves if we all work together.

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