Tradition, regulation at crux of coyote hunting conflict

Jeff Mack stands looking out over the Shoreham land he shares with his spouse, Katie Rigg. Mack and Rigg are concerned about what they allege are irresponsible activities by coyote hunters this winter. (Photo by Trent Campbell)

Jeff Mack stands looking out over the Shoreham land he shares with his spouse, Katie Rigg. Mack and Rigg are concerned about what they allege are irresponsible activities by coyote hunters this winter. (Photo by Trent Campbell)

SHOREHAM —Lapham Bay Road residents are asking their selectboard to pass a local ordinance regulating coyote hunting in town. They believe nothing short of a new law will put an end to what they allege are cases of trespassing and irresponsible shooting that made them feel unsafe on their own property.

State officials, meanwhile, said a local law would not supersede current Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department regulations allowing coyotes to be hunted 24/7, throughout the year.

Katie Rigg joined a handful of her neighbors at a Shoreham selectboard meeting last night to discuss some alleged confrontations in February, when a group of hunters and their dogs descended upon the area in what neighbors believed to be a coordinated coyote hunt. Some of those hunters, neighbors claimed, were impolite and harassed landowners. They also alleged instances of hunting dogs straying onto their property and harassing personal pets and/or horses.

“They are terrorizing this town under people’s noses, within the confines of the law,” Rigg said.

But some who participated in that weekend’s hunt said the group acted responsibly, asked permission from landowners and avoided property belonging to folks known to be opposed to coyote hunting.

“We are not out to create controversy,” hunter Chris Hanson told the Independent. “We are very respectful of people.”

In a voice that at times cracked with emotion, Rigg told the selectboard the incidents were causing her and her husband, Jeff Mack, to fear for their lives, and she vowed to defend herself. She added her recent experiences were causing her health problems, including high blood pressure.

“There are no checks and balances going on [with coyote hunting], and that is what’s putting myself and my neighbors in fear of our lives,” she said. “People have been telling me they are carrying their own weapons in fear.”

Resident Nicolee Torrey complained a hunting dog strayed onto her property and circled her horse. She alleged when she confronted the dog’s owner, he told her she needed to get back into her car and stop harassing him.

“They enjoyed intimidating a woman,” Torrey said of the hunters. She and her husband will now post their property.

She recently expressed her disapproval in a Facebook post, threatening consequences if hunters keep it up.

Efforts to reach Middlebury-based game warden Josh Hungerford, who is investigating the complaints, were unsuccessful as the Addison Independent went to press last week.

A winter tradition

Participants in the Shoreham coyote hunts said the activity has become a winter tradition. Hanson said the hunts generally begin after muzzleloader season and conclude toward the end of March. He said the hunters are careful to check with landowners, some of whom participate in the hunts. Many use GPS equipment to record their positions, information he said can confirm no trespassing occurred. He added area farmers encourage the hunts as a means of thinning a coyote population that can wreak havoc on other animals, including deer.

Another hunter, who wished to remain anonymous, said the hunts allow participants to enjoy the outdoors as temperatures begin to warm up and serve as a way to introduce the younger generation to hunting, he said.

“It’s just us farm kids trying to kill time,” he said. “It’s a sport, and it’s legal.”

It might be legal, but coyote hunting is not neighbor-friendly the way it’s being practiced in Shoreham, according to Rigg.

Rigg, a self-described “redneck from Shoreham,” said she’s lived in town for more than 40 years. She’s noticed coyote hunting before, but thinks the activity has lately gotten out of hand.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife institutes no limit on kills. Coyotes are one of two animals that can be legally hunted at night (the other being skunks), by moonlight. Dogs are legally permitted to hunt coyotes and bear, according to Lt. Justin Stedman, a state game warden and supervisor of Fish & Wildlife’s central district.

Stedman said it’s up to the dog owners to police their animals, which he said can be tricky.

“Dogs can’t read,” he said.

“The dogs can cross posted land,” he added. That’s something that can cause issues.”

Stedman said citizens can push for new hunting regulations through the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board, a 14-member governor-appointed body with representatives from each county.

The board functions like Fish & Wildlife’s selectboard and, among other things, considers new hunting regulations, which can come from members or from citizens, Stedman said.

Louis Porter, commissioner of Vermont Fish & Wildlife, said the department receives a few coyote hunting complaints each year, which the department takes “very, very seriously.”

State: No new rules likely

Despite this, the commissioner added he’s not likely to recommend new coyote hunting regulations.

“Our biologists and wardens are constantly considering whether our regulations need to change,” Porter said. “Coyotes are a very important top predator in Vermont, but their population is also very resilient and adaptable. We have no evidence that hunting under the current regulations is leading to a decline in coyote populations in Vermont that could place that population in jeopardy — or even significantly reduce it across the landscape.”

Porter acknowledged that just as some Vermonters want more coyote hunting regulations, others want the process to be easier.

“We all share this state, its land and its wildlife, and we all have a duty to protect and respect it – and we all have the right to enjoy it, including through regulated and legal hunting,” Porter said. “Like in any activity involving human beings, people occasionally come into conflict over hunting.”

Shoreham selectman and former state Rep. Will Stevens listened intently, with his colleagues, to Riggs’ and Torrey’s concerns last week. While the selectboard might be powerless to intercede with a local hunting ordinance, Stevens believes there could be another solution.

“Maybe there are some creative approaches we could take,” he said.

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Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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  • Annie Wilczak

    “He added area farmers encourage the hunts as a means of thinning a coyote population that can wreak havoc on other animals, including deer.” Sir I wish that this misnomer would be wiped from the traditionalists’ minds. Coyotes feed largely upon small rodents, rabbits and occasionally raccoons. Rarely do they predate upon W-T deer; fawns that are premature or unhealthy logically fall prey and wounded (hunter-wounder mostly) adults are removed by coyotes from the habitat. In effect the ‘yote is Nature’s Garbage crew and do far more beneficial service for the farmer than damage.

  • whittler

    “…we all have a duty to respect it (the land and wildlife)” according to Mr. Porter.
    If hounding coyotes and other wildlife is considered “respect” then I highly disagree. These coyote hunts are considered sport only by the participants, not the general public .
    All that is legal is not always just.