It’s difficult to conceive of a piece of legislation richer in symbolism over substance than the ban on coyote-killing contests that the Oregon Senate approved by a 17-12 vote last week.

The legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, admitted as much when he pointed out that the bill, which now moves to the House, doesn’t restrict the killing of coyotes.

The bill bans contests only.

In other words, you can kill as many coyotes as you want, you just can’t win any prizes for your prowess.

A reasonable person would assume that a law banning the killing of an animal, even if the ban is limited to specific events, would protect that species.

Not in this case. Coyotes, as anyone knows who has seen one strolling a city street, hardly need the Legislature’s help to thrive. Indeed they have defied decades of government-sponsored campaigns, employing a variety of cunning tactics involving poison, that killed vastly more coyotes than any contest ever will.

It’s no coincidence that Oregon wildlife laws place no limits on how many coyotes licensed hunters can kill. Coyotes can be killed year-round, as well.

If lawmakers were truly interested in changing attitudes about coyotes they would, rather than pass meaningless laws, focus on publicizing research showing that killing coyotes, with a goal of reducing predation on livestock, might actually worsen the problem because survivors tend to reproduce at a faster rate.

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