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Hunter groups sue DNR over coyote season decision

A new regulation on coyote hunting has spurred lawsuits from hunter organizations hoping to keep the practice unrestricted year-round.

The 4-2 vote from the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, a governor-appointed body within the DNR, banned coyote hunting season from April 16 to July 14. Since 2016, the season has lasted throughout the entire year.

The decision has spurred impassioned comments from hunters and lawsuits from two Michigan sportsmen associations. The Michigan United Conservation Clubs sued the commission in Ingham County, while the Michigan Trappers and Predator Callers filed suit in Mackinac County.

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Amy Trotter, CEO of the MUCC, said that many hunters against the measure don’t have a specific affinity to coyote hunting. Instead, they take issue with what they see as a decision based on public opinion, rather than scientific evidence.

“Unfortunately in this case, when they chose to close part of the coyote season, they actually relied on public perception,” she said. “And that is not something that our membership can support because we want these decisions made based on biology, based on good information and data and not public perception.”

Trotter and her organization argue that the commission’s decision is in violation of Proposal G, a ballot initiative passed in 1996 which requires the commission to make decisions based on “sound scientific management” principles.

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But a majority of the board’s seven members felt that the decision was properly influenced by science, or lack thereof. The DNR has maintained that the decision would be population-neutral, meaning the coyote population wouldn’t significantly change if the proposal were rejected or adopted.

Tom Baird, chair of the commission, said before his vote that other legitimate considerations could be considered in wildlife decisions, and since the proposal didn’t have a significant scientific consideration, public opinion could be included.

“It does not tell us what to do when science is neutral — as is in a case like this, where a regulation change will not help or hurt the resource in any way,” he said.

Baird used a similar argument in saying that opening day should be kept on Nov. 15, despite no scientific basis for that specific date.

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Some outside of the hunting community have said that coyotes should be left alone in the spring and early summer, the time of year when female coyotes may be pregnant and pups have been recently born. Trotter said that while the practice may seem grisly to some, it should be left to hunters themselves to influence wildlife regulations.

“I want to be really clear that this isn’t Disney,” she said. “We manage coyotes through hunting, it is a lethal control mechanism. But that has not had any kind of impact biologically on the population.”

The regulation is set to go into effect this month unless a court takes action on the matter before then. Nuisance hunting of coyotes is still allowed year-round.

The DNR declined to comment on the issue since it involved pending litigation.

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