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Groups sue Michigan wildlife regulators over shorter coyote hunting season

 coyote
Two hunting groups have sued the state for shortening Michigan’s coyote hunting season from year-round to nine months. (Shutterstock)
  • In March, Michigan regulators shortened the coyote hunting season by three months to protect pups in the den
  • Two hunting groups have sued, arguing the decision was not based in science
  • State wildlife officials dispute that, and note that social science is always involved in setting regulations

Two prominent hunting and trapping advocacy groups are suing state wildlife regulators for shortening Michigan’s coyote hunting season. 

Michigan United Conservation Clubs and Michigan Trappers & Predator Callers have filed separate appeals in Ingham County and Mackinac County circuit courts, challenging the Michigan Natural Resources Commission’s recent decision to shorten the season from year-round to nine months.

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In a March 14 vote, the commission made it illegal to hunt coyotes after April 15 and before July 15, a move designed to prevent hunters from orphaning pups that depend upon their parents for survival.  

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The commission is a seven-member body whose members are appointed by the governor to regulate hunting and fishing.

A majority of hunting and trapping organizations on a state advisory group initially recommended the shorter season, believing that allowing hunting while pups are in the den could give coyote hunters a bad reputation, leading to anti-hunting policies.

But Michigan United Conservation Clubs argues that the commission illegally based its decision on social factors, rather than science.

Michigan’s Proposal G of 1996 requires that the Natural Resources Commission “to the greatest extent practicable, utilize principles of sound scientific management in making decisions regarding the taking of game.”

“The record is unambiguous,” MUCC executive director Amy Trotter said in a statement. “The commission has not heard or cited any scientific literature or rationale justifying the closure.”

DNR officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.

But ahead of the March 14 vote, Natural Resources Commission Chair Tom Baird pushed back on arguments that shortening the coyote hunting season is anti-science. 

Michigan first established a year-round season in 2016, a decision that was based on the perception that high coyote populations had become a nuisance. But the longer season has not reduced the population or increased the number of coyotes killed each year, which Baird said calls into question whether there is any justification for it.

Baird also argued that Proposal G doesn’t make science the only factor wildlife managers can consider — and they routinely add social and economic considerations to the mix.

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Look no further, he said, than the state’s recent decision to keep the opening day of deer season on Nov. 15 simply because hunters like the tradition. Or the decision to ban bear bait containing melatonin, because wildlife officials believe it’s unethical to sedate bears before shooting them.

Trotter countered that those decisions didn’t amount to new restrictions on hunting. She said regulators should tread more carefully when making decisions that take hunting opportunities away. 

“Our belief is that we should provide those maximum opportunities,” Trotter said. 

It remains legal to kill nuisance coyotes year-round on private land — a practice that appears to account for a large percentage of coyote hunting activity. A DNR survey showed that 65% of coyote hunters hunt only on private land.

Michigan Environment Watch

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