Utah wildlife officials are cleaning up their bounty program on coyotes because of fraud.
Instead, they should just dump the program because of science.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has announced reforms to the program that pays bounty hunters $50 for killing coyotes in certain areas of the state. The bounty comes out of the Mule Deer Protection Act, which was passed in 2012 to reduce the predation of mule deer so hunters will have more to shoot.
Yes, we’re killing the coyotes so they don’t kill the deer before we can.
But there is really no evidence it even works. Coyote will kill and eat deer, but removing the coyotes doesn’t necessarily result in fewer coyotes. Their population is more a function of available food. The program has produced a remarkable 90,000 coyote carcasses in six years, but there is nothing to indicate the coyote population is any smaller in Utah. That population has dramatically increased in recent years because other predator populations — wolves, cougars — have declined as human activity has limited their ranges.
The Mule Deer Protection Act could be renamed the Bounty Hunter Subsidy Act.
And who knows how many of those carcasses even came from Utah? The reforms announced this week expose just how easy it has been to undermine the system. The DWR will now no longer take maggot-ridden carcasses, roadkill or body parts so decomposed they may not even come from a coyote.
They’re also rolling out a GPS-driven app to enforce the requirement that the killed coyotes should come from places where people hunt deer. Right now it’s an honor system for bounty hunters, a profession frankly not known for its honor.
Tribune reporter Brian Maffly this week detailed the case of a West Jordan couple who produced 237 coyote scalps to DWR over the past couple of years. The state paid them $11,850 after they submitted paperwork showing the animals were taken from the right places.
Now they have been charged with felony fraud. State investigators seized their cell phone and work records to determine that they weren’t where they said they were. In fact, 95 of the scalps were taken by other people in Nevada.
They absolutely should be prosecuted, but that won’t legitimize the bounty. Now we’re just clogging the courts with this senseless program.
At the heart of the problem is Utah’s old-world approach. We’re still trying to build the economics of wildlife management on hunting fees at a time when the public’s interest in wildlife extends far beyond shooting animals.
Biology suffers when the game is about producing game. Taxpayers should be howling.