Monomoy Refuge Drops Coyote Hunting Plan

By: Tim Wood

Because of public opposition, a coyote hunting has been dropped from a hunting plan for the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Waterfowl hunting will be allowed, however, and will coincide with the state waterfowl hunting season. FILE PHOTO

Waterfowl Hunting Will Be Allowed

CHATHAM – A plan to allow recreational coyote hunting on the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge has been scrapped.

Waterfowl hunting will be allowed on the waters west of South Monomoy, but overwhelming opposition to coyote hunting, as well as the inability to complete the necessary coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regarding concern about impacts on seals, resulted in that portion of a draft hunting plan being dropped.

“There was very strong opposition to specifically the coyote portion of the hunt plan,” said Refuge Manager Matt Hillman.

Monomoy is one of 70 refuges nationwide where hunting and sport fishing is being expanded. The new rules went into effect Aug. 29.

There were 48 comments received on the hunting plan, most opposed to coyote hunting. Three were in favor, Hillman said, two supporting it as predator control and one as a recreational activity.

The original plan allowed coyote hunting from November to March, with closures during periods when seal researchers are on the island. In addition, large sections of the east side of South Monomoy, which are major seal haul-out areas, as well as Morris Island, would be closed.

Hillman said recreational coyote hunting was never meant as a means of predator control. Because of the time of year the activity would be allowed and remoteness of the island, few hunters were expected to take advantage of the opportunity, so the likelihood that a large number of coyotes would be removed was low.

“There might not be any coyotes there in the winter anyway,” Hillman said.

Predator control is more of an issue in the spring as a way to protect nesting shorebirds, and that will continue, as in the past, with personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service removing coyotes as necessary.

Because of last year's government shutdown, Hillman said refuge officials were also unable to consult with NOAA on the impact coyote hunting might have on the Marine Mammal Protection Act. South Monomoy is one of the largest haul-out areas for gray seals on the east coast. Even with a 500-foot buffer from the east-facing beaches where seals typically haul out, there was not enough information to determine how a gunshot, for instance, would impact the seal population, he said.

More research would be needed if coyote hunting is revisited, although Hillman said he doesn't expect that to happen unless there is a shift in attitudes about the activity.

“Right now public sentiment is much more opposed to hunting coyotes,” he said, noting the widespread opposition to coyote “killing contests” sponsored elsewhere on the Cape, which he felt had an impact on the Monomoy proposal.

Hunting of ducks, geese and coot will coincide with the state waterfowl hunting season, which opens for a limited time from Oct. 11 to 19 and then from Nov. 27 through Jan. 25. Hunting those species will be allowed in an approximately 3,000 acre area of open water west of South Monomoy, within the refuge's official boundary. The town and state are disputing the location of that boundary, asserting that federal jurisdiction ends at the low water mark, but unless a settlement changes the boundary, the refuge retains oversight of that area, Hillman said.

Of the comments submitted on the hunting plan, three were in favor of allowing waterfowl hunting and three were against, he said. Waterfowl hunting was historically done on Monomoy, and the area being opened up for the activity is directly adjacent to state waters where the activity is allowed, Hillman said, and hunters commonly stray across the boundary into refuge jurisdiction.

“We see them already here in the winter,” he said.

Waterfowl hunters require state permits and must adhere to state regulations and limits, but there are no additional requirements for hunting within the refuge. Professional guides must obtain a permit from the refuge, Hillman said, for which there will be a small fee.

None of the species involved are threatened or endangered, he said, adding that that the Fish and Wildlife Service's migratory bird division has been tracking waterfowl populations for years and works closely with states to set harvest limits.

Hillman added that the refuge will be conducting a controlled burn on South Monomoy in October or early November. Thirty-three acres of mostly beach grass, including one acre of invasives, will be burned to create tern nesting habitat, and the smoke will likely be visible from the mainland. The timing of the burning will be weather-dependent; notification will be put out on social media announcing when it will take place. The burn will be overseen by a team from Acadia National Park in Maine.

The last controlled burn in 2015 successfully enlarged nesting habitat on Monomoy, which is hosts the largest tern colony on the eastern seaboard.