AN INTERVIEW WITH RANCHING WITH WILDLIFE COORDINATOR KELI HENDRICKS: Project Coyote Guardian of the Pack Award Recipient
In December 2016 Project Coyote recognized Keli Hendricks’ contributions to with Project Coyote’s Guardian of the Pack Award. Here we ask Keli to share her background and involvement with Project Coyote as the organization’s Ranching with Wildlife Coordinator:
PROJECT COYOTE: You have a varied background, one that has taken an interesting turn for a wildlife defender; you had a successful career as a professional horse trainer and, with your husband Dean Spinelli, you are a rancher in Sonoma County, California. Can you tell us something about the evolution of your working with and caring for animals?
KELI: Like a lot of girls, I loved animals, but I was really into horses. As early as I can remember, I wanted a career that involved working with horses. I worked on ranches and for horse veterinarians. After graduating from high school, I went to Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo) and majored in animal science. From there I began working for horse trainers and showing in cutting and reined cow horse events. Eventually I started my own business and met my husband Dean who was running the cow/calf operation on the ranch in Petaluma where we still live today.
Having lived and worked on ranches most of my life, I have seen a lot of conflicts with wildlife that I felt could have been avoided. Frankly I never understood the anti-predator attitudes of some ranchers. I’ve always believed that every wild animal has an ecological purpose, and that the time, energy and money that’s used sustaining this war on predators would be better spent preventing conflicts from occurring.
PROJECT COYOTE: How did you become involved with Project Coyote?
KELI: When I retired from training horses, I decided that I wanted to devote a year or two to working with wildlife and helping people find solutions to wildlife conflicts. I started volunteering at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, and was shocked by what I learned of the suffering endured by wildlife, and how much of it is a direct result of human actions. I spent every spare minute educating myself and reading everything I could find about human/wildlife conflicts. The more I read and heard, the more I discovered that things were even worse for predators, particularly coyotes, than I had imagined.
I realized that as a rancher I was in a unique position to talk to other ranchers about alternatives to current predator management practices. I reached out to Camilla Fox to offer my time to Project Coyote, and both Camilla and I agreed that we could do some good work together. I told Camilla I was eager to know more about conditions that predators face, and she flooded me with so much reading and homework that I realized I should have been more careful about what I had wished! I learned so much from Camilla and Project Coyote’s Science Advisory Board members – who are basically the wild canid research dream team. That learning included scientific confirmation of what I had known instinctively: lethal predator management is not a solution, and there are better ways of protecting livestock and predators. That was back in 2011 or 2012. My original plan, which was to give two years of my life to reforming predator management, has been revised. I have no intention of slowing down or stopping my work with Project Coyote in the near future.
PROJECT COYOTE: You are the coordinator of Project Coyote’s Ranching with Wildlife program. Can you tell us about the program?
KELI: The program was established to help Project Coyote reach out to ranchers with information, resources and tools to help them implement nonlethal livestock protection methods that meet the needs of their individual operations. Last March, Project Coyote held our first Ranching with Wildlife Workshop at my father’s ranch in Petaluma, and it was a great success. We had speakers ranging from predator friendly ranchers, a livestock guardian dog breeder, the Marin County Agriculture Commissioner and other stakeholders who shared valuable information with ranchers and other members of the community. We were encouraged by the favorable reception we received and are hoping to offer additional workshops in the future.
PROJECT COYOTE: What gives you most hope in creating change and promoting predator management reforms?
KELI: Raising awareness has been and will continue to be key. Aside from ranching, there are many forms of predator management practiced by governments, businesses, and private individuals that need to be reformed—or eliminated. Wildlife killing contests are one example of a practice that communities, once made aware of it, are unwilling to condone. As far as ranching, I’m hopeful because we are seeing the public becoming increasingly aware of what’s involved in the business of raising livestock – cows, chickens, lamb, etc.—for food. The ranching industry needs to come to terms with the fact that animal welfare issues are becoming more important to the public. We can, and should, do better by both our livestock and wildlife. By appealing to ranchers’ enlightened commercial interests, helping them develop greater appreciation for the role predators play in environmental conservation, and providing them with practical nonlethal alternatives for protecting livestock, we are helping ranchers, their livestock and predators to peacefully coexist. The more awareness we can raise among ranchers, the greater the opportunities for positive change in the preservation of predators and all wildlife.