I received a letter from a former government trapper in which he attacked an educational film I narrated for Project Coyote, the nonprofit organization featured in the May 31 San Francisco Chronicle article “Wildlife groups take aim at lethal control of predators.” Suggesting that I was being duped and could be held liable for damages if people were hurt because they trusted the film’s assertions, my correspondent challenged Project Coyote’s promotion of nonlethal approaches to living with coyotes and other predators as naive and dangerous.
As an ordained Zen Buddhist priest, a lifelong environmentalist and board member of Project Coyote, I felt it was my duty to respond to this person, which I did privately. However, the larger issues raised in his letter were emblematic of thinking that promotes human life above all other forms, disregards scientific data, and never considers whether the fact that wild creatures are being crowded into smaller habitats by human population growth might be related to negative encounters with people.
The trapper impugns coyotes because “they kill for a living,” failing to recognize how his work as a federal hunter was an identical occupation.
While I do not judge the man, I do judge the federal policy, which hires men like him who have killed over a million coyotes in the West alone since 2000, according to the Sacramento Bee. These efforts by the federal Wildlife Services, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have only served to expand the native range of coyotes to every state in the union. My correspondent showed no awareness of these facts well known to biologists: that coyotes raise their breeding rates as their population diminishes; and that once a resident pack is exterminated, their territory opens up to migrating coyotes — the ones most dedicated to poaching livestock.
In short, the more coyotes are killed, the faster they breed.
Our Marin County pilot project, Project Coyote, demonstrated with empirical evidence (and to the satisfaction of local ranchers) a cheaper more effective way to control predation, saving Marin County hundreds of thousands of dollars, while keeping deadly poisons out of the environment and food chain.
Federal trappers kill in the shadows and most taxpayers have no idea of the scale of the losses inflicted on wildlife in their name. Why do Americans, while proud of our rugged independence, seem to fear wildness and want to eradicate it? Why do we allow our government to ravage populations that do not serve us? Why are we so anxious to “tame” everything?
Millions of different creatures manage to maintain a perfect balance among themselves. Man alone has decided that his interests trump all others, so it seems fair to ask this of those who think that way: “Where would man be in a world overrun with mice and rats, without honey bees and wild creatures?”
I’d rather live with the adjustments required by wild animals over the greed and selfishness of men. Perhaps that’s just me.
Peter Coyote is an actor, award-winning author and an ordained Buddhist priest.
Download Peter Coyote’s letter here.