By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

A contest to see who can kill the most coyotes this weekend near Burns has drawn the attention of an animal rights group that would prefer to see no coyotes killed at all.

The second annual Harney County Coyote Classic is set for this weekend in Burns, according to a post on the Coyote Contest Facebook page.

The page includes listings for organized coyote hunts around the country. A poster for the event shows that organizers plan to give out guns, cash and other prizes to people who have the highest average weight brought in each day of the two-day hunt, as well as whoever kills the heaviest and lightest coyote.

Organizers of the Coyote Classic could not be reached for comment.

Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense in Eugene, is opposed the idea of such contests.

“The whole idea is vile — that you just go out and wantonly slaughter wildlife for silly prizes,” he said.

The Oregon Hunters Association-Harney County Chapter held the first Harney County Coyote Classic in December 2013 as a fundraiser. The event drew about 21 teams of one or two people; an organizer declined to say how many coyotes were killed.

Another organized coyote hunt near Burns, the JMK Coyote Hunt last January, drew attention from animal rights groups and a lawsuit. The hunt went on but last June, Duane Freilino, a Burns rancher who organized the hunt, agreed to settle the lawsuit brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Project Coyote, both based in Northern California.

Freilino told The Associated Press he settled because he ran out of money for attorney fees. He had won an early round in the court case, when a Harney County Circuit Court judge denied a request by the animal rights groups to stop the hunt before it started.

The lawsuit focused on side betting planned for hunt participants, which the animal rights groups called illegal gambling. The Coyote Classic is not advertising such betting.

Fahy said his group does not plan to file a lawsuit involving the upcoming event.

“There is nothing really legally that we can do,” he said.

Predator Defense did send out an email Monday morning calling for people who follow the group to speak up about the coyote-killing contest. The email included contact information for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Harney County Chamber of Commerce, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office and others.

Supporters of organized coyote hunts say the events reduce the number of the predators, which may attack sheep and other livestock. But Fahy said thinning coyote packs may actually lead to more coyotes being produced by interfering with regular breeding cycles.

State lawmakers have classified coyotes as predatory animals, Michelle Dennehy, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

The state does not have any limits to how many coyotes a person may kill. The animals may be hunted year-round.

Organized coyote hunts occur around the country, with Coyote Contest’s Facebook page listing upcoming events in Meadow, South Dakota; Warden, Washington; Roosevelt, Utah, and elsewhere.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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