Coyote on the rails

A coyote makes its way up the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad near Old Lake and Matt's Ferry roads on the southern edge of Baraboo in June 2016.

With an appeal to the state Natural Resources Board, a Baraboo resident is trying to raise awareness of wildlife “killing contests,” in which hunters earn prizes for killing the most of a particular species.

“To me, this seems like nothing more than a blood sport, where our resources are being used for just a few people’s enjoyment. It’s entertaining to them,” Mikii Opahle said at the Feb. 27 board meeting.

She noted that coyotes are targeted in the biggest Wisconsin contest and crows in the second.

One coyote hunting contest known as “Moondog Madness” is held each January in three locations around Wisconsin, including in Prairie du Sac, according to the group’s Facebook page. This year, participants killed 155 of the animals, one post stated.

Opahle said she recently found out about these events — which she compares to dog fighting or cock fighting — and wanted to raise awareness, so she started a grassroots campaign to stop them. Her group of activists know of about 40 contests in the state, mostly in rural areas and often sponsored by local bars or taverns, she said.

“They typically don’t use the animals that they’ve killed, and I think it sends a message that animal life here in Wisconsin is disposable,” she said, noting that children are sometimes involved.

She grew up around nature, in a family of hunters and with a father who was a biology teacher, factors she credits with teaching her that all animals have an ecological purpose. As a mother of three, Opahle said she teaches her children to respect wildlife and finds these competitions to be teaching the opposite.

Steve Mills, chairman of Baraboo’s Circus City Sportsmen board, said he doesn’t have a problem with hunting contests, as long as participants don’t break the law or state bag limits. Coyotes are a “nuisance for farmers,” he said.

According to a state Department of Natural Resources hunting pamphlet, Wisconsin hunters need only a small-game hunting license to kill as many coyotes as they want during any time of year. For crows, there’s a daily bag limit of 15 and a hunting season that started Jan. 18 and ends March 20.

“You would have to kill off a lot more than 50 to even come close to (affecting) the ecosystem,” Mills said. “I mean, there’s thousands of (coyotes) in the state of Wisconsin.”

A 1999 article by DNR wildlife biologist Tami Ryan estimated coyotes had a statewide population of under 20,000. According to the DNR, their population growth is partially due to the “unregulated and often encouraged extermination attitude toward larger predators like wolves and cougars.”

Natural Resources Board Chairman Frederick Prehn of Wausau said the board asked DNR staff to research and then report back on the legality of wildlife killing contests, as well as regulations limiting the activity. While the board sets policy for the DNR, Prehn noted that it can’t make laws.

“If there’s going to be a law to stop activity like that, then that has to be brought forward to the legislative branch of our government,” he said.

But as a self-described lifelong sportsman, Prehn was sympathetic to Opahle’s cause. Hunting, he said, should be for harvesting an animal for food or fur.

“I don’t think harvesting or killing the animal for pure pleasure is truly what — in my opinion — a sportsman should take part in,” Prehn said.

State Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, introduced a bill in February that seeks to ban contests for killing wild animals. The Dane County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution last week urging legislators to pursue a ban.

Opahle encourages people to contact state legislators about the issue and speak to the Natural Resources Board. She said she’s encountered name-calling and bullying online, which deters some people from getting involved.

“It’s something I’ve been aware of and cautious about, but I think it’s an important enough thing that we need to make people aware that it’s happening if anything is going to change,” she said. “This is really about us as a society and what we’re tolerant of.”

Those efforts don’t concern Mills, who said he doesn’t think the state will impose regulations on the competitions because there are more people who like them than don’t. He said hunting is necessary to keep coyotes under control.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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