By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

A Harney County resident, a coyote protection group and an animal rights organization teamed up Thursday to file a lawsuit trying to stop a coyote hunt planned for this weekend near Burns.

“I just don’t like to see the slaughter of so many beautiful animals,” said Louann Thompson, 71, of Burns, one of the plaintiffs. The Eighth Annual JMK Coyote Hunt is set for Saturday and Sunday, starting and ending in Crane, a town about 30 miles southeast of Burns. The winner will be the two-person team that kills the most coyotes over the weekend, with ties broken by the combined weight of the animals, according to rules posted online. There is also a raffle and a Calcutta, or side bet, on who participants think will be the winning team.

Last week and earlier this week the hunt’s organizer was in talks with Bureau of Land Management officials about whether hunters in the contest would shoot coyotes on land overseen by the agency.

After hearing concerns from BLM officials about not having a special use permit for the contest, organizer Duane Freilino said he wouldn’t encourage or discourage hunters from going after coyotes on BLM ground. That issue seemingly resolved, now he is contending with the lawsuit, which he declined to discuss Thursday.

“I have no comment at this time,” Freilino wrote in an email to The Bulletin.

Thompson, Project Coyote and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed the lawsuit Thursday in Harney County Circuit Court, asking a state judge for a temporary restraining order to stop the contest. They argue that fear stemming from the coyote hunt will prompt Thompson to cancel her planned weekend outside, enjoying the outdoors, and they say the event violates state gambling laws.

Judge William Cramer, Jr., has scheduled a hearing on the restraining order for 1:30 p.m. today in his Burns courtroom.

Thompson said she’s lived in Burns for seven years, having retired from Troutdale, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund asked for her help with the lawsuit. She said she has donated money to the group, which is based in Northern California but also has a Portland office.

“I was one of two people in Harney County who had contributed,” she said.

Opposed to the killing of coyotes in the hunt, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has focused on what it calls illegal wagering involved in the event.

“The way they have set up the event, it falls under the definition of gambling in Oregon,” said Stefan Heller, litigation fellow for the group in Portland.

Entry for the contest is $100 per person, or $200 per team; the winning team gets belt buckles, and cash prizes will be given for the top three finishing teams, according to the contest rules on the Shooters Services Unlimited website. Freilino owns the Burns-based company, which provides guiding and hunter training.

Last week Freilino said the winning team would win 50 percent of the total entry fees, second would get 20 percent and third would get 10 percent. The hunt last year drew about 20 teams that killed just under 150 total coyotes.

Freilino, who ranches, has said the reason for having the hunt is to cull the number of coyotes and ease the problems they can cause for cattle and other animals.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund said such “killing contests” have the opposite result. Heller said the coyotes left in the packs after coyote hunts will have more pups more often, leading to an increase in the number of coyotes.

—Reporter: 541-617-7812; .