Group wants ban on penned hunts

By Scott Mooneyham | Jan 03, 2013

RALEIGH -- A group of wildlife advocates says it plans to make another push to ban hunt pens, where dogs track foxes and coyotes in fenced-in enclosures.

Those folks might want to better understand what they are up against.

Quite a while ago, North Carolina legislators limited the appointed body that oversees wildlife regulation in the state, the Wildlife Resources Commission, when it comes to fox hunting.

By law, the commission doesn't set a season and can't restrict the use of dogs when it comes to hunting foxes.

I would suggest that those limitations are an indication of the political influence enjoyed by fox hunters, and specially those who run fox hunting preserves.

Those who operate the penned hunts say that they are used to train dogs and that cruelty described by opponents is virtually non-existent.

But a group called N.C. Wildlife Advocates has begun a petition drive to outlaw what it calls a "heinous, barbaric blood sport" in which foxes and coyotes are cornered and viciously killed by dogs.

It may be barking up the wrong tree.

The group attempted to enlist the Wildlife Resources Commission and its executive director, Gordon Myers, in its efforts. Myers responded that it is up to state legislators to make any changes.

He understands the political landscape, and has seen this battle fought before.

Just four years ago, a bipartisan group of legislators, with the backing of The Humane Society of the United States, introduced bills to ban the practice. The legislation went nowhere.

Lost in the hubbub about the pen hunts is a related topic that no one seems to want to broach: Just how much has pen hunting contributed to the presence, over the last three decades, of an unwanted and non-native nuisance -- the coyote?

The dog hunters and pen preserve operators would be quick to tell you that North Carolina law has always banned the importation of coyotes. In 2003, legislators did  begin to allow coyotes that are already in the state to be trapped and then hunted in pen preserves.

Those hunters would argue that their trapping and penning of the animals is helping to get rid of a problem, not create one.

But here and in other Southeastern states, the illegal import of coyotes has been documented by studies.

It is also worth noting that when coyotes first began appearing in North Carolina, in the 1980s, they didn't creep into the state along western or southern border counties. The first places the animals were trapped, or where dead animals were found, were in Wake and Johnston counties in the center of the state, and in Beaufort, Hyde and Washington counties, in the central Coastal Plain.

If those animals arrived by natural migration, they apparently were a winged subspecies.

Perhaps consideration of illegally imported coyotes, as a part of the current debate, is just crying over spilled milk.

Or, maybe it is evidence that legislators ought to consider the broader implications of the hunting laws which they pass.