It seems that hunters have been cheating to get a $50 bounty on coyotes offered by the State of Utah. To receive payment, the State requires hunters to turn in a dry or frozen coyote scalp with ears attached, but people have been turning in coyote pelts from roadkill and possibly from out of state.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resource (DWR) has stopped reporting the number of coyotes submitted per person, but 2014 data indicate that while most participants turned in just a few pelts, a relatively few people turned in more than 25 pelts for cash. In May, a couple who had turned in over 200 coyote pelts for the bounty were found to be paying other people to supply them with dead coyotes.
The Mule Deer Protection Act, passed by the Utah Legislature in 2012, established a coyote bounty of $50 per animal. The law is based on a premise that paying hunters will reduce the coyote population and increase mule deer herds, but it’s not supported by scientific evidence. In fact, Utah’s mule deer herds are in decline because human activity is impacting deer habitat, not because of excessive predation.
Wildlife biologists say the bounty amounts to a subsidized recreation program for people who shoot animals for fun. Nonetheless, each year $500,000 in public money is set aside to pay for coyote bounties. DWR reports that in 2017, 11,505 coyotes were killed and the State of Utah paid out $575,250 to 1,214 individuals (that works out to $473 per participant).
There is a strong connection between bad wildlife laws like the Mule Deer Protection Act and a right-wing movement to privatize public lands and wildlife. For many years, anti-conservation hunting groups like Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife have been lobbying to change hunting laws in order to give preference to rich trophy hunters. These groups have strong ties to the Trump administration.
Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife, was Trump’s campaign manager in Utah. In May, Peay was appointed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to a newly formed Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council, an advisory group with a mission to “expand access to hunting and shooting sports on public and private lands.” This group is heavily stacked with trophy hunters and is behind an effort to expand hunting in national wildlife refuges, including the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in northern Utah.