News  Regulations to prohibit wanton waste and predator contests approved

At its December meeting, the MA Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted to approve regulations prohibiting the waste of game animals, prohibiting contests for predators and furbearers, and changing harvest reporting requirements for fox and coyote.
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At its December meeting, the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted to approve regulations prohibiting the waste of certain game animals, prohibiting hunting contests for certain predator and furbearing animals, and changing the harvest reporting requirements for fox and coyote.

Summary of regulation changes

Please note: These regulations are not yet in effect and are still subject to administrative processing prior to promulgation. MassWildlife anticipates that the regulations will go into effect well before the 2020 fall hunting season. Below, MassWildlife provides a summary of the regulations; please click here for the exact wording of the regulations approved by the Board. 

Prohibition on contests for predators and furbearers (321 CMR 2.16 - Prohibition on Contests for the Capture, Take or Waste of Predator and Furbearer Animals)

  • It shall be unlawful for any person to organize, sponsor, promote, conduct, or participate in a contest for the take of coyote, bobcat, red fox, gray fox, weasels, mink, skunk, river otter, muskrat, beaver, fisher, raccoon, and opossum [Animals regulated under 321 CMR 3.02(3) or 3.02(5)(b)(2, 5-11)]. A predator or furbearer contest is where participants compete for prizes or other inducements in the capture or take of predatory or furbearing animals.

Prohibition of wanton waste (321 CMR 2.17: Prohibition on the Waste of Certain Game Animals)

  • It shall be unlawful for any person while hunting or trapping in accordance with 321 CMR 3.02 to waste an animal. “Waste” means to intentionally or knowingly leave a wounded or dead animal in the field or the forest without making a reasonable effort to retrieve and use it. Each retrieved animal shall be retained or transferred to another until processed or used for food, the pelt, feathers, or taxidermy. 
  • The waste regulation does not apply to:
    • Animals “unfit for consumption or use” – animals and their parts that are damaged, destroyed, decayed, rotting, diseased, or infected.
    • Defense of people or property (M.G.L. Ch. 131, Sec. 37).
    • Problem wildlife, such as Beaver Emergency Permitting (321 CMR 2.08) and Problem Animal Control (321 CMR 2.14).
    • Certain animals listed in M.G.L. Ch. 131, Sec. 5: English sparrow, starling, crow, chipmunk, flying squirrel, red squirrel, porcupine, skunk, weasel, or woodchuck.
    • Wounded or dead animals that cannot be retrieved after a reasonable effort has been made.

Change harvest reporting requirements for fox and coyote [321 CMR 3.02(3): Hunting of Bobcat, Fox and Coyote in Massachusetts and 321 CMR 3.02(5): Hunting and Trapping of Certain Game Mammals]

  • Fox and coyote shall be checked within 48 hours of harvest, consistent with deer, bear, and turkey requirements. Fox and coyote may be checked online or in person.

Public comment summary and response

MassWildlife and the Fisheries and Wildlife Board conducted a review of policies and regulations associated with coyote hunting and contests. As part of this review, professional wildlife biologists at MassWildlife considered the best available science, consulted with outside professionals, and solicited input from stakeholders. To gather public feedback, MassWildlife held four listening sessions from April through June, in Barnstable, Buckland, Westford, and Bourne, respectively. Letters and emails from the public were also collected and considered.

On July 17, MassWildlife staff made a regulatory recommendation to the Fisheries and Wildlife Board based on the comprehensive review, and the Board voted to move forward with the formal regulatory process. Draft regulations were developed by MassWildlife staff based on the regulatory recommendation and published on the MassWildlife website on September 20. To gather public feedback on the proposed regulations, public hearings were held in Lenox on October 22 and in Westborough on October 29. From the posting and dissemination of the proposed regulations on September 20 to the close of the written comment period on November 12, MassWildlife received 1,031 written and oral comments, as summarized below.

Public Hearing Comments:

    • 35 comments in support
    • 25 comments in opposition

Emails and Letters:

  • 971 Letters and Emails
    • 895 comments in support (15 comments in support from organizations, including 3 letters of conditional support)
    • 76 comments in opposition (3 comments in opposition from organizations)

MassWildlife staff reviewed each comment received. Four common themes emerged from many of the comments, and MassWildlife presented responses to the Fisheries and Wildlife Board at its December meeting. The following section summarizes the staff’s responses to these themes that were presented to the Board.

Comment themes and responses

Comment Theme 1: Commenters said the proposed regulations would negatively impact livestock farmers.

MassWildlife Response: The regulations are specifically designed to preserve all options currently available to the public and to farmers experiencing livestock depredation by coyotes, and do not, in any way, reduce the opportunity for coyote hunting. The following options currently available to livestock farmers and other property owners will all remain available and unchanged under the new regulations:

  1. Whenever lethal removal of an animal causing conflict is warranted, MassWildlife recommends that a farmer or landowner invite hunters onto the property during the regulated season in order to promote the utilization of the resource and ensure that the animal is not wasted.
  2. Property owners, their families, and employees will still be able to protect their property year round by killing an animal that is in the act of causing damage (including depredation) in accordance with the Massachusetts General Law Chapter 131 Section 37, and this is exempt from the wanton waste regulation. Also, property owners can hire a licensed Problem Animal Control Agent to trap or shoot the offending animal, an activity that is also exempt from the wanton waste regulation.
  3. MassWildlife can also issue a special permit to farmers experiencing livestock depredation from coyotes. This option allows the farmer to invite licensed hunters onto their property, both during and outside of the regulated seasons, to take coyotes in order to mitigate the issue and the wanton waste rule would not apply.

While the regulations do not decrease options available to landowners and farmers experiencing property damage or reduce the opportunity to hunt coyotes or other furbearers, it is important to note that coyote hunting in Massachusetts cannot control the coyote population and has not and cannot prevent livestock depredation or other types of human-coyote conflict. This is due to the inherent biology and population structure of coyotes. Hunting can randomly remove animals that are depredating on livestock or causing other conflict, but it may also remove animals that are not. Because hunting cannot control the population, there will always be coyotes around farms and some livestock depredation is unfortunately inevitable. MassWildlife has always been and will continue to be committed to working with farmers and livestock producers to minimize and mitigate conflict when it occurs.

Comment Theme 2: Commenters said they understand the need for a prohibition on certain contests, but that the ban should only apply to contests where participants compete to take the greatest numbers of animals and/or to contests sponsored by commercial entities.

MassWildlife Response: Contests for quantity are fundamentally different from other contests, such as a big buck pool, where there is a season bag limit of two bucks. The key difference is that contests for quantity are specifically designed to incentivize the take of more animals or the most animals. This problem is particularly acute for species that do not have a season bag limit. In the absence of a season bag limit, a “largest” contest still incentivizes the take of multiple animals in order to get the largest (or smallest, or nicest coat, etc.).

Regarding the distinction between contests sponsored by a commercial entity and contests sponsored by individuals or non-commercial clubs, the regulatory changes preserve the opportunity for clubs to hold contests for all species other than the furbearers listed in the regulation. The issues discussed above related to contests for species without bag limits apply regardless of who is sponsoring the contest. The issue surrounding these contests is not that they are sometimes held by a business, but rather the nature of the contest itself and that it incentivizes the taking of multiple animals. For these reasons, MassWildlife did not recommend changes to the draft contest regulation, which has already been narrowly crafted. 

Comment Theme 3: Commenters stated support for the principle of opposing wanton waste, but said the requirement to use harvested coyotes places an unreasonable burden on the hunter or trapper.

MassWildlife Response: Multiple commenters suggested that hunters lack the skills and knowledge to process a pelt, and that the cost to process a pelt is prohibitive. However, skinning and properly caring for the pelt of a furbearer is a skill that can be readily learned by sportsmen and sportswomen, and is not dissimilar to learning how to field dress a deer carcass or properly fillet a fish. An internet search reveals dozens of videos discussing and demonstrating step by step the proper way to skin and prepare a pelt for personal use or sale. These skills are also taught in free trapper education classes offered by MassWildlife or can be obtained by talking with sportsmen who are experienced in the techniques. A pelt can then be dried and kept for personal use or sold without tanning. No additional license or fee is needed for someone to sell a pelt to a fur buyer. As a result, a pelt can be prepared for use, storage, or sale with a minimal time commitment and at no cost to the hunter. If hunters wish to tan pelts, they again can do it themselves or send them out to be tanned. The price to tan a pelt is far lower than the prices cited by commenters; coyote pelts can be tanned for $25–$35, depending on the vendor.

It is important to note that, based on a review of harvest reporting over the past ten years, 75%–80% of successful coyote hunters only harvest 1–2 animals and 90% harvest 5 or less. In summary, skinning and drying a pelt is not excessively time-consuming or difficult and MassWildlife is committed to helping hunters acquire these skills if they do not already have them: this is an integral part of our mission. Outsourcing some or all of the process remains an option for those who are not inclined to do it themselves. Given the centrality of the principle of utilization in hunter ethics, the hunter education curriculum, and the North American Model of Wildlife Management, MassWildlife recommended no change to the wanton waste regulation with respect to coyotes and other furbearers.

Additionally, with respect to coyotes, some commenters raised questions about whether the use of a clump of fur or the tail constitutes acceptable use. For hundreds of years, furbearer species have been traditionally harvested for their pelts. Because harvesting just a clump of fur or the tail would result in significant waste, consistent with the intent of the original draft regulation, MassWildlife recommended a clarifying change to the wording of 321 CMR 2.17(2) from “fur” to “pelt.”

Comment Theme 4: Commenters said hunting reduces human-coyote conflict in cities and towns, prevents depredation on pets, and maintains a fear of humans in coyote populations; the proposed regulations will reduce coyote hunting, thereby exacerbating the problems.

MassWildlife Response: Several commenters suggested that the wanton waste and contest prohibitions would lead to a decrease in coyote hunting. These commenters went on to suggest that if hunting of coyotes decreases, coyotes will move into towns and cities, there will be an increase in human-coyote conflict and depredation of pets in those areas, and there will be an increase in habituated coyotes that do not fear humans. Coyotes are already at saturation levels on the landscape in Massachusetts, meaning they occupy all suitable territories, including suburban and urban areas. Coyotes reside in every city and town in mainland Massachusetts, including Boston, Springfield, and Worcester. Hunting did not prevent and cannot prevent coyote occupation of these areas or the unfortunate depredation of pets and other human-wildlife conflicts. As stated repeatedly, coyote hunting does not control the coyote population in Massachusetts. Hunting may randomly remove an animal that preys on pets or causes some other form of human-wildlife conflict, however it is not possible to remove the specific offending coyotes through hunting at anywhere near the frequency necessary to have a meaningful impact. Hunting can also randomly remove animals that are not causing a problem, making room for other individuals that may, by chance, be more problematic. In many of the suburban places where we experience higher levels of pet depredation, there is no or limited hunting due to development and firearm discharge setbacks. For these reasons, MassWildlife emphasizes preventive measures to reduce human-coyote conflict in urban and suburban communities, including pet monitoring and coyote hazing. Lastly, while hunting does not play a significant role in limiting human-coyote conflict in urban and suburban areas, the regulations do not in any way reduce coyote hunting opportunity. 

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