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The Westmoreland Supervisors voted last Monday to direct their staff to move forward with development of amended ordinance language that will facilitate control of unwanted coyote populations.

As this paper previously reported, Commonwealth’s Attorney Julia Sichol was asked to review existing local ordinances and offer guidance. Sichol delivered her findings in a memorandum addressed to County Administrator Norm Risavi on Feb. 3, suggesting that minor changes to

existing language will remedy the problem.

 

Current language stipulates that only shotguns can be used to kill coyotes, but coyotes are known to be shy, evasive beasts who keep their distance from humans. The limited range of shotguns has made the unwanted predators difficult to control.

Two months ago District 4 Supervisor Woody Hynson brought the problem of the rapidly increasing coyote population to the attention of Westmoreland Board of Supervisors colleagues, sharing the story of a hunting party’s recent discovery of a pack of coyotes that took down a wounded deer and had nearly devoured the animal when the party reached the fallen animal that they had shot.

 

 

During that Board of Supervisors discussion, Risavi was directed to consult with jurisdiction’s hunter/Landowner Advisory Committee to discuss changes to local ordinance language in order to better control the unwanted predators.

The citizen organization’s secretary, Anne B. Garner, advised the Supervisors in a Feb. 1 correspondence that the advisory group had completed its deliberations and “concluded that there is no need to pass any local ordinance regarding coyote control at this time. “State-wide regulations adequately address the control of the coyote population,” Garner related.

“The Committee also explored remedying confusion regarding the use of rifles to shoot coyotes. Rifles may be used at any time to destroy a coyote. However, there is a prohibition on the use of rifles during the general firearms season for deer.”

Local attorney Kim Harvey weighed in with a reading of the existing ordinance language in Westmoreland County.

“We do have a coyote problem in the County as well as problems with other undesirable species,” Harvey wrote in a letter addressed to Norm Risavi on Jan. 23.

“The current ordinance will only allow the use of rifles for groundhogs between March 1 and August 31 of each year. This alone in impractical, since they are active most of the year here and do present a problem for farmers.

“Crows are another species that cause damage to crops in the County and it is sometimes beneficial to shoot them in the fields with a rifle as well, simply because they will not let you approach them close enough to kill them with a shotgun.

“In the case at hand, the use of rifles would be beneficial in the private landowner’s attempt to control predator populations. “My point in all of this is that I believe that portion of the Ordinances needs to be repealed. It serves no useful purpose today. When the Ordinance under consideration and its predecessor (that simply prohibited the use of rifles during the general deer season) were enacted, I am sure that some people thought rifles were more hazardous and had a much greater range than shotguns or muzzle loading black powder guns. Also, that the use of rifles because of their perceived greater range would have led to greater incidences of hunting accidents during the general deer season.

“The truth is that modern shotgun slugs and muzzle loading black powder rifles have a much greater effective range today than a lot of the cartridge arms from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

“The notion that the use of rifles for hunting is a much greater threat simply does not agree with the facts today. To date, I do not believe that we have had one incident in the County where anyone (hunter or non-hunter) was injured or caused an injury while hunting with a rifle, or a modern shotgun with slugs or muzzle loader. I do understand that over the past several years some people have been injured with buckshot from shotguns.

“I, as well as other land owners in the County that I know, have used rifles and handguns for many years to hunt and target shoot with no negative issues. The end result, I believe, is that the current ordinance can be repealed with no negative impact and several possible results. In the case at hand, the use of rifles would be beneficial in the private landowner’s attempt to control predator populations.”

During last week’s Board of Supervisors discussion, County Attorney Tom Bondurant urged the Board to move forward with the amended language Sichol proposed on Feb. 3.

Sichol suggested that the county adopt an amendment that would strike the language that restricts the size and caliber of firearms used to kill nuisance species. She additionally proposed a minor tweaking of existing language would remove control of nuisance species from state hunting regulations. The amended language would “differentiate between animals that are nuisance animals and animals that are game animals,” she explained.

“All we need,” said Bondurant, “is to adopt language that doesn’t specify what caliber [firearm] and what species of nuisance animal.” “We have to send a copy of the draft amendment to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for their approval,” Risavi told the members of the Board.

“This is exactly what I asked for when we met in January,” Hynson commented. “The only problem I see is that it will still be against the law for a hunter to have a rifle in the car during deer season. “I really believe the coyotes are becoming a serious problem. Dogs and cats disappear all the time and I am afraid that if something isn’t done, somebody’s kid is going to disappear.

“Coyotes are very leery animals and it takes somebody with a good rifle and the means to knock him out. It isn’t likely anyone is going to get any closer than 150 yards to a coyote. Whatever rifle you have in your home, that’s what you ought to be allowed to use. People have to be careful, but this is simply good sound judgment,” Hynson explained.

An effort is in process to craft the language, forward it to Game and Inland Fisheries and advertise the proposed amendment for public hearing at the earliest opportunity.

Betsy Ficklin

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