Writers on the Range
Coyote War Reminds Me of
War in Iraq
If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every
problem as a nail, said psychologist Abraham Maslow.
As a wildlife ecologist here in the American West, I cant help but
draw analogies between the Bush administrations foreign policy in
Iraq and one of its proposed wildlife policies in the American West. Both
rely on heavy-handed lethal approaches using guns and killing when
other approaches could work better.
As the war in Iraq drags on, at least three lessons are clear. First,
there is a strong ethnic-religious component to the war that our military
power seems unable to address. Were trying to use a hugely expensive
military machine to grapple with religious fundamentalism, which is like
using a gold-plated jackhammer to hoe a garden.
Second, the reasons used to justify the war those weapons of mass
destruction we could never find and the connection to Osama bin Ladin
turned out not to exist.
And third, our relentless bombing and killing of terrorists seems to make
more religious extremists decide to be terrorists. In other words, the
more terrorists we kill, the more we seem to make.
A recent proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to give the Agriculture Departments
Wildlife Services agency the option to kill coyotes in wilderness areas
by poisoning and gunning them down from a helicopter or airplane
offers eerie similarities to the quagmire in Iraq.
A coyote is a four-legged critter that weighs around 40 pounds, like a
medium-sized dog. It adapts to almost any environment, lives both alone
and in families, and it performs necessary ecological functions in natures
grand food chain. Coyotes mainly eat rodents and other small animals,
but sometimes they dine on free-roaming domestic sheep and calves that
are grazing on public lands.
For decades, the U.S. government has responded by spending millions of
dollars every year to kill coyotes by poisoning, trapping and aerial gunning.
Here in Colorado where I live, the federal government spends about $1.8
million per year on Wildlife Services, a small portion of which goes to
aerial gunning of coyotes on public lands. In the past, wilderness areas
places thought of with reverence by conservationists
and the majority of American citizens have been off-limits to aerial gunning.
And so the first similarity to Iraq is this: Even though there are many
ways to control coyotes preying on livestock, the Bush administration
is choosing the most heavy-handed lethal option with complete disregard
for human cultural institutions. The Forest Service is proposing to send
airplanes and helicopters with guns into wilderness areas to shoot what
is essentially a 40-pound wild dog.
The second similarity is equally intriguing. In the United States in 2004,
coyotes and other domestic dogs killed about .1 percent of calves and
about 3 percent of sheep. On public lands, those losses are significantly
smaller, and in wilderness areas, those losses are absolutely miniscule.
Again, the reason given to justify this aerial war uncontrolled killing of livestock in wilderness
by coyotes turns out not to exist or is severely exaggerated.
The third similarity is downright eerie. Recent scientific studies have
shown that coyotes are very resilient when it comes to federal killing
programs. In fact, when some members of coyote families are killed, it
causes other members to disperse and breed more rapidly. Their biological
response mechanism seems to tell them they are under attack, and their
reaction is to spread widely and bear even more pups. Indeed, since the
U.S. government began extensively shooting, trapping and poisoning coyotes
150 years ago, the range and numbers of coyotes have expanded dramatically.
In other words, the more coyotes we kill, the more we seem to make.
There are many options to control coyotes preying on livestock,
such as guard dogs, fencing, techno-gizmos that scare off coyotes, actual
range-riding cowboys on horseback and as a last resort: killing. They
are all a part of a much larger option, which is learning to live with
the non-human world around us, rather than constantly inventing war-like
ways to kill and subdue it.
But that is not the trend here in the American West, nor in Iraq. The
Bush administration is building hammers fast, and all it can see is nails.
Gary Wockner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High
Country News. He is a writer and ecologist in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Comments on the coyote-gunning proposal can be sent by Aug. 7 to Forest
Service, USDA, Attn: Director, Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Resources,
201 14th Street, SW., Washington, D.C. 20250; by electronic mail to PDM@fs.fed.us;
or by fax to 202/ 205-1145.