Judge refuses to block coyote hunt

By Tyler Leeds The Bulletin

A Harney County Circuit Court judge decided against legal action to block a coyote hunt planned for today and Sunday in Crane, 30 miles south of Burns.

A suit was brought by Harney County resident Louann Thompson, wildlife conservation organization Project Coyote and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The coalition sought a restraining order, arguing that an organized “Calcutta,” or side bet, tied to the hunt and advertised on the event’s website, violated gambling laws.

Summarizing Judge William Cramer Jr.’s decision, trial court administrator Tammy Wheeler said, “The judge stated the issue at hand is gambling, and that to issue a restraining order, there would have to be the threat of irreparable harm. You would have to really show that the harm could not be repaired, which was not the case here.”

While the hunt was not stopped, the judge did say the co-plaintiffs could be awarded monetary damages if the event’s gambling aspects, which violate state law, proceed this weekend.

Later Friday, Duane Freilino, the hunt’s organizer, said the betting will be canceled.

“I think the judge made a fair ruling based on the law,” Freilino said. “It’s a good event for the community and brings people into the area at a time of year when there is very little tourism.”

Freilino said the hunt reduces the number of coyotes at a time when domestic cattle are most vulnerable. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, however, counters that the surviving coyotes will have pups more frequently due to the killings, leading to an overall increase in coyotes.

“Today’s hearing had favorable overtures from the court, despite the denial of emergency relief, and may remove the financial incentive to participate in a killing contest,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund wrote in a statement. “By taking away the cash prizes — and posing the risk of financial damages — a favorable ruling could dramatically change the structure and incentive of the hunting contest in the future.”

According to information posted earlier on the event’s website, participants at the eighth annual JMK Coyote Hunt could have bet on which team of hunters would win. The winning team would have been the one that killed the most coyotes over the weekend, with ties broken by comparing the combined weight of the animals.

“I’m sorry that they didn’t issue a restraining order,” Thompson said. “I don’t know if I’ll be involved in any future legal action, but if they need me to be, I’ll be there.”

In an email, Project Coyote founder and Executive Director Camilla Fox wrote, “We are very disappointed with the judge’s ruling on this case and believe that if Oregon residents had the chance to weigh in on this issue through a ballot measure, they would overwhelmingly support a ban on wildlife killing contests.

“Killing coyotes and other wildlife for fun and prizes is ethically repugnant, morally bankrupt and ecologically indefensible,” she continued. “It sends a message to children that life has little value and that an entire species of animals is disposable. It’s time state wildlife agencies and legislators take this issue seriously and ban this practice.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com