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Shoreham coyote hunt spurs anger

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Posted on February 29, 2016 |
By John Flowers



JeffMack9898.jpg
JEFF MACK STANDS looking out over the Shoreham land he shares with his spouse, Katie Rigg. Mack and Rigg are concerned about what they allege are irresponsible activities by coyote hunters this winter. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

SHOREHAM — Some residents of Lapham Bay Road in Shoreham are asking their selectboard to pass a local ordinance regulating coyote hunting in town. They believe that nothing short of a new law will put an end to what they allege have been cases of trespassing and irresponsible shooting that made them feel unsafe on their own property.

State officials, meanwhile, said a local law would not supersede current Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department regulations that allow for coyotes to be hunted 24/7, throughout the year.

Lapham Bay Road resident Katie Rigg joined a handful of her neighbors at last Wednesday night’s Shoreham selectboard meeting and spoke of some alleged confrontations during the weekend of Feb. 20-21, when a group of hunters and their dogs descended upon the area in what they believed to be a coordinated coyote hunt. Some of those hunters, neighbors claimed, were impolite and at times harassed landowners. They also alleged instances of hunting dogs straying onto their property and harassing personal pets and/or horses.

“They are terrorizing this town under people’s noses, within the confines of the law,” Rigg said of some of the hunters.

But some of those who participated in that weekend’s hunt said the group acted responsibly, had asked permission from landowners, and avoided property belonging to folks known to be opposed to coyote hunting.

“We are not out to create controversy,” Chris Hanson, one of the hunters, told the Independent. “We are very respectful of people.”

In a voice that at times cracked with emotion, Rigg told the selectboard the incidents were causing her and her husband, Jeff Mack, to fear for their lives, and she vowed to defend herself. She added her recent experiences were causing her health problems, including high blood pressure.

“We all need laws to keep ourselves in check,” Rigg said of hunting. “There are no checks and balances going on (with coyote hunting), and that is what’s putting myself and my neighbors in fear of our lives … People have been telling me they are carrying their own weapons in fear.”

Nicolee Torrey, another Lapham Bay Road resident, also complained about coyote hunting activities in the neighborhood that weekend. She alleged a hunting dog strayed onto her property and “was circling my horse.” She alleged when she confronted the dog’s owner, he told her she needed to “get back in my car because I was harassing him.”

Torrey said she and her husband have now made the decision to post their property.

“They enjoyed intimidating a woman,” Torrey said of the hunters.

But hunters gave a different account of the incident.

Hanson alleged that the Torreys blocked in some of the hunters’ trucks. Torrey said she parked her vehicle behind the trucks but did not believe she was blocking them in.

Efforts to reach Middlebury-based Game Warden Josh Hungerford, of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, were unsuccessful as the Addison Independent went to press on Friday. Hungerford has been investigating the coyote hunting complaints in Shoreham.

Torrey reinforced her displeasure with this recent Facebook post:

“Attention all Coyote Hunters using dogs: if your dog is in my horse pasture ‘harassing or annoying’ my horse, there will be consequences. You do not get to tell me that I am harassing you by expressing my concerns! If my horse is sweating and upset, he has been ‘harassed and annoyed.’ Your dog threatens my horse, I will threaten your dog! It is my responsibility to protect my horse. It is YOUR responsibility to control your dog and keep it OFF my property!”

Lt. Mike Manley, commander of the Vermont State Police’s New Haven barracks, said the hunting complaints fall within the jurisdiction of Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

A WINTER TRADITION

Participants in the Shoreham coyote hunts said the activity has become a winter tradition. Hanson said the hunts generally begin after muzzleloader season and conclude toward the end of March. He said the hunters are careful to check with landowners, some of whom participate in the hunts. Many hunters use GPS equipment to record their positions, information that he said can confirm no trespassing occurred. He added area farmers encourage the hunts as a means of thinning a coyote population that can wreak havoc on other animals, including deer.

Another one of the hunters, who wished to remain anonymous, said the coyote hunts have allowed participants to enjoy the outdoors as temperatures begin to warm up. They have also been a way to introduce the younger generation to hunting, he said.

“It’s just us farm kids trying to kill time,” he said. “It’s a sport, and it’s legal.”

It might be legal, but coyote hunting is not neighbor-friendly the way it’s being practiced in Shoreham, according to Rigg.

Rigg, a self-described “redneck from Shoreham,” said she has lived in town for more than 40 years. She said she’s noticed coyote hunting in the area before, but added the activity has lately gotten out of hand.

“I don’t want to stop them from hunting, but they need to be regulated,” Rigg said.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife currently permits coyote hunting year-round, with no limit on kills. It is one of two animals that can be legally hunted at night (the other being skunks), by moonlight. State rules prohibit the taking of game using artificial light. Dogs can also legally be used to hunt coyotes, as well as bear, according to Lt. Justin Stedman, a state game warden and supervisor of Fish & Wildlife’s central district.

Stedman said it is up to the dog owners to police their animals, which he said can be tricky.

“These dogs don’t operate within the vision of hunters,” he said. “The dogs can cross posted land. That’s something that can cause issues.

“Dogs can’t read,” he added.

Stedman said Vermont Fish & Wildlife is in charge of regulating hunting, meaning towns cannot pass their own enforceable laws. But he said there is a process by which citizens can push for new hunting regulations — through the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board. The 14-member board includes representatives from each county. Gary Gibbs of Leicester is currently rounding out his six-year term on the panel. The governor appoints members. The board, among other things, considers new hunting regulations, which can come from a member of the panel or from citizens, Stedman said. It takes a majority vote of the board to approve new regulations, he added.

“It’s Fish & Wildlife’s version of a selectboard,” Stedman said.

Louis Porter is commissioner of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. He said the department receives a few coyote hunting complaints each year. He added the department takes complaints, such as the recent ones from Shoreham, “very, very seriously.”

“We talk to the those who lodge the complaints and to the hunters, and, when warranted, ask our wardens to look into them, as we have in this case,” Porter said through an email.

NO NEW RULES LIKELY

The commissioner added he is not likely to recommend new coyote hunting regulations.

“Our biologists and wardens are constantly considering whether our regulations need to change, but at this point I do not believe we need additional regulations on coyote hunting,” Porter said. “Coyotes are a very important top predator in Vermont, but their population is also very resilient and adaptable. We have no evidence that hunting under the current regulations is leading to a decline in coyote populations in Vermont that could place that population in jeopardy — or even significantly reduce it across the landscape.”

Porter acknowledges some Vermonters want to see coyote hunting more heavily regulated. He added other folks want to make coyote hunting even easier.

“We all share this state, its land and its wildlife and we all have a duty to protect and respect it — and we all have the right to enjoy it, including through regulated and legal hunting,” Porter said. “Like in any activity involving human beings, people occasionally come into conflict over hunting. We hear from people who would like us to limit or eliminate coyote hunting, and from people who would like us to extend trapping of them, put a bounty in place, or allow the use of lights to hunt them at night.”

Shoreham Selectman and former state Rep. Will Stevens listened intently, with his colleagues, to Rigg’s and Torrey’s concerns on Wednesday. While the selectboard might be powerless to intercede with a local hunting ordinance, Stevens believes there might be another solution.

“Maybe there are some creative approaches we could take,” he said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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