Why Are We Waging War on Coyotes?

James Cromwell

How did coyotes become public enemy No. 1? These resilient, intelligent survivors should garner our respect and admiration, but instead they're targeted and killed in hideous ways.

Coyotes are a fundamental part of our urban environment—they're our neighbors, really—and, like sparrows and raccoons, can be found everywhere in North America, including trying to survive, despite the odds, in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and New York City.

According to author Dan Flores, who wrote the excellent Coyote America: A Natural & Supernatural History, coyotes are now the most common large wildlife species most Americans will ever see.

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James Cromwell attends the Humane Society of The United States 60th Anniversary Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 29, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. Cromwell writes that the war on coyotes is a terrible thing. Every year since 2001, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has killed approximately 35,000 coyotes by shooting them from planes and helicopters. There are still "no limit" coyote-killing contests with prizes for the most tails turned in. Jason Merritt/Getty

You're far more likely to spot a coyote than our national bird, the bald eagle, which is now rare because of our murderous ways and whose decimation should serve as a cautionary tale for our treatment of coyotes.

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The war on coyotes is a terrible thing. There is no end to the ways humans have found to exterminate these beautiful canines, including by trapping them in wire snares, shooting them and poisoning them with strychnine (along with any other unfortunate "non-target" animal who happens to take the bait).

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In Southern California alone, the cities of Carson, Glendora, Rolling Hills, Seal Beach and Torrance are targeting coyotes—even though the state's own wildlife department has found that trapping is an ineffective long-term solution to controlling their population.

Recently, residents of Arcadia, California, expressed concerns about the cruelty of using neck and leg snares to trap and then kill coyotes, but officials ignored them. PETA has filed a lawsuit to stop this plan.

Every year since 2001, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has killed approximately 35,000 coyotes by shooting them from planes and helicopters. Sheep and goats have been fitted with collars containing the gut-wrenching poison 1080 so that when coyotes attack, they'll bite into the collar and die.

It is outrageous knowing that even today, there are still "no limit" coyote-killing contests with prizes for the most tails turned in. And if you travel down a backroad in rural Oklahoma or Texas, don't be surprised if you see dead coyotes hanging from fences.

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Coyotes are smart enough to recognize their enemy: They typically flee rather than having anything to do with humans. They've learned to be wary—and rightfully so. But among themselves, they wrestle and yip and howl and carry on. (Flores calls their song our "original national anthem.") They keep tabs on each other and love to play.

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A nursing mother coyote limps through Griffith Park, the nation's largest urban park, after fleeing flames May 9, 2007 in Los Angeles. James Cromwell writes that the war on coyotes is a terrible thing. There is no end to the ways humans have found to exterminate these beautiful canines, including by trapping them in wire snares, shooting them and poisoning them with strychnine. David McNew/Getty

Even though coyotes provide natural rodent control (their food of choice is rodents), whose fault is it really when they venture down the hillsides in search of easy pickin's? People who let their cats roam outdoors, where innumerable dangers can easily befall them, or who leave food out for feral cat colonies, are sending coyotes an engraved invitation. Why should they be killed simply for trying to live to see another day?

Our wild neighbors have far more to fear from us than we do from them. It's time to recognize animals' rightful place in the world and learn to coexist in peace.

James Cromwell is an actor and producer.

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