Project Coyote Honors Roger Hopping with the First Annual Coyote Warrior Award
In January of 2013 I received a call from Roger Hopping who was desperately seeking assistance to stop coyote a killing contest scheduled to take place the next month in his home community of Adin in Modoc County, California and neighboring counties. As Roger explained, the annual event – then in its seventh year – was popular with the community, attracting more than 200 men, women and children. The object of the contest was to kill as many coyotes as possible in two days. Every year the event culminated in a grand display of all the dead animals, dozens of them, tossed into a “coyote dump.”
Within hours of our phone conversation, Roger emailed background information about the kill fest — formally known as Coyote Drive 2013. Roger sent a copy of the event’s promo poster which featured a bloodied coyote skull and described the prizes that would be awarded to the killers of both the largest and the greatest number of coyotes. I was horrified. I could not imagine that such a barbaric practice was legal in California and that our state wildlife agency would sanction such brutality which clearly met the definition of ‘wanton waste’. I soon learned that such contests – also called “tournaments” and “derbies” – were taking place in California and across the West. That week Roger and I had several phone and email conversations, and I pledged that I would do everything I could to stop the killing contest. I knew I had a committed ally in Roger who would do whatever was needed to stop this barbarity from occurring in his community.
In a short time, we assembled a coalition of organizations that would join forces to keep the Coyote Drive from taking place, at least, on public lands. Through Public Records Requests we filed, we found that the killing contest sponsors— Adin Supply Outfitters and the Pit River Rod and Gun Club—had failed to obtain the necessary permits that would authorize the contest to take place on Bureau of Land Management lands (BLM). We were assured that the BLM manager informed the contest sponsors that they could not conduct the kill fest on BLM lands.
In addition, we appealed to the California Fish and Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to intervene for the safety of wolf OR-7 (also known as “Journey”) – as well as any other un-collared gray wolves that might be in the area and whose safety was jeopardized by this hunt (Journey was known to be traversing through Modoc and surrounding counties at the time). If Journey, or any un-collared wolves were shot by a coyote killing contest participant, it would be a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Roger was not convinced that the Act would be enforced since the local sheriff had published an Op-Ed in the local paper encouraging killing contest participants to violate federal law and not heed federal agency hunting restrictions on public lands. Roger and I found an ally in Chico News reporter Allan Stellar who agreed to thoroughly investigate and write about the planned contests. You can read Allan’s news stories here and here.
While we were not able to stop Coyote Drive 2013, with Allan Stellar’s reporting and his help with research and on-the-ground monitoring, Project Coyote launched a statewide campaign to prevent future killing contests in California. Over the course of the next 18 months, we brought the issue before the California Fish and Game Commission and petitioned the agency to close the loopholes on killing contests of coyotes and other targeted wild animals. Tens of thousands of Californians, including Roger and Paula Hopping, expressed their outrage that this practice was legal and condoned by the state wildlife agency entrusted with stewardship of the state’s wildlife.
On February 8, 2014, Roger Hopping drove his truck into downtown Adin, intending to photograph the cruelty and carnage of the 2014 Coyote Drive. In years past, killing contest participants brought their bloodied trophies to the center of town to be weighed and then publicly displayed. Roger hoped to bear witness and share his photographs with Project Coyote and the reporter Allan Stellar to expose the brutality of Adin’s killing contest. But, as a result of the public condemnation that Allan’s reporting had aroused, the hunt’s sponsors took steps to reduce their exposure and did not publicly display their victims. As he was attempting to document the killing contest by taking pictures in front of contest headquarters – Adin Supply – Roger got into a verbal altercation with the owner, one of the principal sponsors of the contest, who grabbed Roger’s camera and pushed him. When Roger fell, he hit the curb and suffered a compression fracture – an injury that has never fully healed. Roger later retained Project Coyote Advisory Board member and attorney Larry Fahn who represented Roger in a personal injury lawsuit in Modoc County; the suit was settled last year.
I delivered on my promise to Roger to stop coyote killing contests in California when, on December 3, 2014, the California Fish and Game commission voted 4-to-1 to close the loopholes that allowed the bestowal of prizes and awards to those who kill coyotes and other species in a contest. California became the first state to prohibit this practice.
Without that fateful call from Roger over three years ago and without his subsequent role as a driving force in our campaign against killing contests, we may never have taken action to halt this egregious practice and achieve this victory.
In honor of Roger Hopping’s courage, compassion and commitment to expose the appalling misuse and abuse of coyotes and other species taking place in his community, Roger will receive Project Coyote’s first ever Coyote Warrior Award. I cannot think of a person more deserving.
Whenever you wonder “What can I do?” let Roger’s actions remind each of us that one person can make a difference. We each have a voice.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead
Thank you Roger.