PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Animal rights groups are going to court to stop a coyote-killing contest scheduled for this weekend in sparsely populated southeast Oregon.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund contends in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the annual event violates state gambling laws. The group and its co-plaintiffs — Project Coyote and Burns resident Louann Thompson — will ask for a temporary restraining order at a Friday afternoon court hearing in Burns, 285 miles southeast of Portland.
Last year, 20 two-person teams of hunters competed in the JMK Coyote Hunt, killing nearly 150 coyotes. The contest entry fee is $200 per team, and the winners take home half the total. Second- and third-place finishers also get cash, and a prize is given for the largest coyote.
According to the event's website, there also will be a "Calcutta,'' which is a type of auction-pool wagering.
"Killing coyotes for fun and prizes is ethically repugnant, morally bankrupt and ecologically indefensible,'' Project Coyote executive director Camilla Fox said in a statement.
The hunting contest is in its eighth year. Event organizer Duane Freilino said it was started to boost winter tourism and to help ranchers by reducing coyote numbers right before calving season. Coyotes are classified as predatory animals under Oregon law, and there are no limits on killing them.
Freilino said he has yet to see a copy of the lawsuit but will defend the contest in court Friday.
``It's not gambling because it's a game of skill; it's not a game of chance,'' he said. ``Luck has nothing to do with it. It's similar to a big-buck contest, a fishing tournament, a team roping, a barrel race, bull-riding.''
Coyote hunting contests have created controversy elsewhere in the West in recent years, with protests taking place in New Mexico and California. In Idaho, a federal judge last month allowed a wolf- and coyote-shooting derby to proceed on public land after WildEarth Guardians and other environmental groups sought to stop it.
In that case, the judge disagreed with the groups' argument that U.S. Forest Service was ignoring its rules that require permits for competitive events.
Freilino said he does not know how many contestants will compete in Oregon this weekend because there is no preregistration. A mandatory rules meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday.
In her affidavit in support of the lawsuit, Thompson said she is ``disgusted'' by the thought of hunters gambling over the destruction of native wildlife.
The 71-year-old, who moved to Burns from Portland after retirement, said she enjoys hiking and other outdoor activities. But she said she'll have to stay home this weekend if the hunt goes forward as scheduled and dozens of hunters are ``competing for cash'' nearby.
``So many hunters concentrated in one place for the sole purpose of mass killing has made me scared and worried,'' Thompson wrote.