A hotly contested bill that would have shortened the coyote hunting seasons in Maine was soundly defeated during Wednesday afternoon’s work session of the Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Augusta.
After more than an hour of discussion on the bill, the committee voted 9-2 that LD 814 ought not to pass. That means it is unlikely to be passed by the Legislature.
The bill wanted to reduce what is currently a year-round season on coyote hunting to six months, and also targeted cutting the night hunting of coyotes from nine months per year to 2 1/2 months. It pitted animal rights activists and conservationists against deer hunters, who blame coyotes for killing a large number of deer every year in Maine.
Proponents of the bill wanted to provide some protections for coyotes, which can be hunted year round and are the only furbearers not subject to Maine’s wanton waste law.
The law states that a person may not waste a wild bird or wild animal that has been wounded or killed by that person while hunting. It also means a wounded or killed animal may not be intentionally left in the field or forest without making a reasonable effort to retrieve and render it for consumption or use.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposed the legislation, citing the apparent health of the state’s coyote population, even when subjected to year-round hunting.
Hunters, Registered Maine Guides and organizations such as the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine also lobbied against the measure, saying coyotes continue to take a toll on deer populations. There is particular concern about coyote predation in northern Maine, where deep snow makes deer easy prey for coyotes.
While DIF&W admitted that its population estimate of 10,000-12,000 coyotes is based on limited data, wildlife division director Nate Webb explained that there was no evidence the sustainability of the population is significantly harmed by hunting.
Committee members questioned representatives of the Warden Service, DIF&W and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine extensively to better understand key elements in their opposition to the bill. The dissenting voters, Rep. Sally Cluchey, D-Bowdoinham, and Rep. Cheryl Golek, D-Harpswell, focused much of their questioning on the issue of wanton waste.
In a minority report, both legislators sought re-evaluation of the wanton waste exception for coyotes in the hope of ensuring respectful treatment of the animals once they are killed. They also support instituting a registration or tagging process for harvested coyotes.
The committee on Wednesday also voted unanimously not to support a measure that would have extended the start of the coyote hunting season, traditionally Dec. 16, by approximately a week.
The state argued that allowing night hunting of coyotes while the muzzleloader season on deer is still in effect in early December may be problematic for the Maine Warden Service, which would have to further monitor night hunting for coyotes during a timeframe when it is not allowed for other species such as deer.