Remembering Hope Ryden, author of GOD’S DOG: The North American Coyote

by | Jul 21, 2017 | Notes From the Field |

Some of you may have heard the sad news about Hope Ryden passing away in June at age 87. In addition to her prodigious conservation work and devotion to wildlife, Hope served faithfully on Project Coyote’s Science Advisory Board almost from its inception.

Hope was at the forefront of efforts to reform the federal government’s lethal destruction of predators—efforts that included testifying before Congress to make the scientific argument in favor of nonlethal predator management. Her energy and commitment inspired me, and I am very grateful to have known and learned from her. Hope’s book God’s Dog helped engender greater empathy and understanding for coyotes, and her devotion to championing the underdog was the theme of her numerous books—as mentioned in a recent tribute to her in the New York Times:

“Ms. Ryden’s devotion to the cause often extended to creatures that had been spurned as varmints by sheep ranchers, pet owners and backyard gardeners. The resurgence of the Eastern coyote, for example, reminded her of “a sunflower that has penetrated a cement sidewalk,” she once wrote, adding that “the event suggests that man’s strangulation grip on nature may not yet be fatal.”

Hope will be missed by many and remembered for her passion, tenacity, and compassion for animals, as well for as her many books, several of which became bestsellers. Project Coyote Science Advisory Board Member Franz Camenzind—who came to know Hope while studying coyote behavior in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming—remembers Hope with his tribute below.

For Hope & for God’s Dog,

Camilla H. Fox
Founder & Executive Director

Tribute to Hope Ryden from Franz Camenzind

A very sad passing.

I know Hope as the author of the book, GOD’S DOG: The North American Coyote which was in large part written during my coyote research in the early ‘70s. She came to Jackson Hole for a summer to observe the coyotes I was studying and we spent a great deal of time together in the field. Hope was a focused, diligent and passionate observer and writer. But most of all, she was a lover of all wildlife.

On one of our jaunts in 1973, the two of us went to the Casper, Wyoming Holiday Inn to testify in front of a congressional subcommittee deliberating the use of poisons (sodium monofluoroacetate/Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide/M44s) by the then ADC—Animal Damage Control. Of course we testified against the indiscriminate killing of coyotes, in particular the use of poisons in the name of livestock protection. I made the argument that if left alone, coyotes would reach a carrying capacity and regulate their own numbers via territorial defense: howling, scent marking and intraspecific combat. Hope did an excellent and passionate presentation on how poisons were non-target specific, inhumane and in the long run not effective in solving livestock depredations.

Well, that of course went over well in a room full of Wyoming’s finest sheep and cattlemen who subscribed completely to the adages that “the only good coyote is a dead coyote,” and “we have been using poisons for decades and will continue to, dammit!” The two of us- an attractive woman from New York City and me, a long-haired easterner-graduate student-were nearly laughed out of the room.

After the meeting, the two of us retired to the bar for a decompression drink. We hardly got settled into a booth when 5 or 6 burly ranchers came over to tell us how the world really worked and how we were living in La La land. Hope and I remained calm, listened, interjected our thoughts and just didn’t rise to the bait. Eventually, when the ranchers realized we weren’t in a fighting mood, one-by-one they drifted off to join their little groups around the bar—I’m sure having laughs about the two outsiders, easterners trying to tell them that coyotes were good and if left alone did little harm to their sheep; in fact, coyotes did lots of good!

But one gentleman, a burly Scottish sheep rancher sat down with us and continued to talk. As I recall, we even bought him a whiskey, but I may be wrong there. If we didn’t, we should have. Anyway, we were politely talking and at some point he softened his voice a bit more and said ”you know, coyotes aren’t that big a problem for us, it’s the weather, disease, the market and all that other stuff, but we blame the coyote because he is here, takes a few sheep and we can shoot them! It makes us feel better. I can live with most of ‘em.”

During our drive back to Jackson, Hope reminded me, the young graduate student, that our testimonies may not have been in vain, that we may have opened a few minds to a different idea.

How grateful I am to have spent time with this remarkable being! Dear Hope—may you continue to watch over all that lives wild and free….

~ Franz Camenzind, PhD
Project Coyote Science Advisor
Former Executive Director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance

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