Republicans spent over an hour debating…coyotes

Assembly lawmakers engaged in a lengthy discussion over the merits of wildlife-killing contests on what could be their last day in Albany.

Assembly Member John Lemondes Jr. called coyotes "one of the most economically destructive species in New York."

Assembly Member John Lemondes Jr. called coyotes "one of the most economically destructive species in New York." New York State Assembly, Matt Yates/iStock/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Assembly members returned for a second day of extra session to wrap up the last of the important work that they didn’t have time to finish last week – like debating the merits of hunting coyotes. In fact, members spent more time discussing the topic than they did debating bills that would protect abortion care providers in New York and make it easier to appeal prior convictions.

For over an hour, Republicans peppered Assembly Member Deborah Glick with questions about her legislation to ban many wildlife-killing competitions in New York. A sponsor memo argues that most animals hunted for these competitions are discarded afterwards, and cites studies that say that such contests are not an effective means of population control while orphaning vulnerable offspring. At the end of the debate period, the legislation passed by a vote of 86-54.

Assembly Member John Lemondes Jr., a Republican lawmaker representing Central New York, complained that the bill would make it harder to hunt coyotes, which he called “one of the most economically destructive species in New York.” He argued with such fervor that one might think coyotes had committed a personal slight against the lawmaker that prompted a long-festering hatred.

Lemondes argued that infringing on the ability to kill coyotes could lead to higher prices at grocery stores and even increased pollution. “I want to give one example of energy and control that sheep provide – and again, this comes back to the coyote,” Lemondes said on the floor. He said it’s much cheaper for sheep to graze weeds and produce than it is to use toxic chemicals, therefore reducing carbon footprints. Fans of the Riverside Park goats know what he’s talking about. 

But what does that have to do with hunting coyotes? According to Lemondes, coyotes prey on the sheep providing such benefits without remorse. And sheep aren’t their only victims. “Coyotes also kill domestic dogs, cats, chickens, everything you might have in your backyard or in your home, coyotes target mercilessly and destroy them,” he said.

To prevent such wanton destruction, many communities hold sport hunting competitions, which generally provide prizes for killing animals like coyotes, woodchucks, foxes and crows, with the winners bringing in the biggest, heaviest or most animals. According to the sponsor memo, there have been nearly 600 such competitions nationwide in the past five years, including dozens in New York.

Assembly Member Jeff Gallahan, a Republican from the Finger Lakes Region, said on the floor he has personally attended 13 contests hosted by his local American Legion chapter. He took issue with Glick’s earlier assertion that those who engage in the hunting contests have no intention of eating the game they catch. “We put on a game dinner every year at the Legion, which raises tens of thousands of dollars,” Gallahan said. “All of these are animals taken in a perfectly legal way. All of these animals are prepared for consumption, then prepared for a meal for a game dinner.” He called the bill “another direct hit on upstate culture.”

Few things fire up New York Republicans quite like the belief that downstate liberals are trying to impose their values onto upstate conservatives without ever having experienced that culture for themselves. “You don’t hunt, you don’t have a hunting license, you’ve never participated in it,” Assembly Member Robert Smullen, a Republican who represents the North Country, told Glick. “You don’t understand the social and cultural rhythms of upstate New York.” He concluded his debate by asserting that Democrats, the majority of whom live in urban or suburban areas of the state, are attempting to impose their will on rural communities they don’t live in. “That is the tyranny of the majority, that is what is wrong with this bill,” Smullen said.

The debate provided plenty of opportunity for political grandstanding about the upstate/downstate divide, which  might explain why lawmakers spent more time debating the issue of hunting contests than typical political hot-button issues like abortion access, appealing criminal convictions or strengthening rent protections. Lawmakers in the Assembly spent roughly ten minutes debating legislation that would make it easier for people to appeal their past convictions, even if they entered a guilty plea initially. They spent about the same amount of time debating legislation that would provide doctors providing telehealth reproductive care to patients in states that criminalized that care. Lawmakers hit about the hour mark with a bill that would eliminate a loophole landlords use to raise the rent on stabilized apartments – but that’s still shorter than the time they spent on coyotes. 

Even Republicans seemed to be getting tired of it by the end of the discussion. “I’m not going to talk about coyotes for the sake of discussion,” Assembly Member Marjorie Byrnes said before diving into her own line of questioning, sans coyotes.