Friday, May 6, 2016

Public Land: Legal Dueling over Dual Use

There was a time when hunters could assume that they had public land to themselves at night.

The expanding nature of dog culture, population increase, and new forms of outdoor recreation mean that is no longer the case.

Case and point, the mistaken killing of two dogs in Badfish Creek Wildlife Area,

Rausch was hunting at night on Jan. 22 in Badfish Creek Wildlife Area, land managed by the Department of Natural Resources, when he used a calling device to attract coyotes and heard animals respond. Rausch told a sheriff’s deputy that he “saw the eyes of what he believed to be a coyote and a face and pointy ears and pulled the trigger. Rausch stated that he did not realize it was a domesticated dog that he had shot.” Rausch also shot a second dog that ran up to him moments later.
The dogs belonged to Deanna Clark, a veterinarian, who was walking with her four dogs, all of whom were wearing reflective vests. Clark also wore a powerful headlamp. One dog died at the scene and the other days later. 
Tjader noted at her client’s preliminary hearing that Rausch had called 911 after the shootings and that he wrapped the surviving dog in his coat to carry it back to the parking lot.
The dogs killed are in the foreground.  If these are the reflective vests in question, it is understandable how a hunter would not have seen them.  The dog on the right, the first one shot, would also have looked very much the coyote under low light conditions.

I find myself sympathetic with all parties involved.  What we have here is individuals called out by fate to be the symptoms of the need for change.

Some things need to change, and there is room for increased awareness and change on the part of all the interested parties.  Pet dog owners often treat wild areas as their own little parks and are then surprised and outraged when their dog is killed by a coyote, or in this more rare case, a hunter.

This actually an important point, the woman who lost her dogs was much more likely to loose them to coyote predation than to the hunter who mistook her domestic canines for wild ones.

Hunters have had the run of many of these areas since before the Second World War, and now need to accustom themselves to sharing them with pedestrians.  It is not irrational for us to expect the hunter to have seen the reflective vests.  The description of the event, which does not seem to be contested, reveals a hunter who did not properly identify his target.

You do not shoot at rustling bushes because it may be someone's child or grandfather.  That is ingrained into hunters from their first time in the field.  That needs to evolve into you do not shoot every canine that comes into range, it could be someone's husky.  This is even more important if you are hunting in populous Dane County, where hunters are more likely to interact with other recreational users of our public lands.

We could ban night hunting in some public lands and allow it in others, but be careful what you wish for.  Coyotes kill a lot more dogs than hunters and once they learn they are not being hunted, they will become ever so much bolder.

Regardless of the future, if you're going to take your dogs into wild places and let them off-lead, best learn how to reduce your chances of being a victim of coyote predation.

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