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Improve wildlife-policy reporting at the Portland Press Herald

This petition had 876 supporters

Improve wildlife-policy coverage at the Portland Press Herald - remove it from the sports division

Deidre Fleming's article “Maine coyotes getting bigger, more wolflike” (May 7, 2017) is deeply disturbing to Maine citizens knowledgeable about these important carnivores and the critical role they play in healthy ecosystems.

Ms. Fleming’s interview with coyote genetics researcher Roland Kays was manipulated to imply that his findings justified the state’s aggressive, year-round coyote killing program. (Dr. Kays does not support aggressive persecution of coyotes.)

The program has long been championed by the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) as the best way to protect white-tailed deer. Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists closely involved in the program and independent canid scientists have, however, sharply criticized it for being ineffective, inhumane, and ignorant of coyotes’ ecological role and reproductive characteristics.

In an internal IF&W memo, former IF&W wildlife biologist Chuck Hulsey wrote: “The relationship between predator and prey is a healthy one… Presence of a large canid predator is a benefit to deer, not a detriment. This is the message which as professional wildlife biologists we should be forwarding.”

Retired biologist Henry Hilton oversaw IFW’s coyote control program for 20 years. He said, “The deer herd cannot be increased by killing coyotes. Females double their litter size to compensate for deaths of neighboring coyotes.”

This history and these facts were not covered by Ms. Fleming. She relied instead on anecdotal evidence from coyote killers with no understanding whatsoever of coyote biology or the role of carnivores to make her case that coyotes are “killing machines.”  

The choice of a snarling, captive coyote photo to accompany the story neatly supported Ms. Fleming’s apparent aim: to convey a Little Red Riding Hood conception of coyotes as big, bad wolves (the word “wolf” appeared more than twenty times in her story).

This approach was quite likely welcomed by members of SAM, but stirring up fear and hatred of carnivores as a way to justify or intensify killing them is a tool of propagandists; it is not an appropriate or acceptable method for a serious journalist. All journalists and their employers have a responsibility to seek the truth and maintain independence from those they cover, but Ms. Fleming, perhaps as a consequence of working in the sports division of the paper, frequently embraces the views of the hunting and trapping communities she covers and appears to be guided by their priorities.

Portland Press Herald readers and subscribers want and expect high quality journalism on wildlife, wildlife policy matters, and the role wild animals play in healthy, bio-diverse ecosystems.

It is past time to move these important subjects out of the realm of the sports department to give them the serious attention and treatment they deserve. 

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