Officials with the provincial government said their office has received some complaints about an upcoming coyote hunting event west of Edmonton, while conservation groups are pushing to cancel it.

On January 10, a hunting tournament is planned for an area more than 100 kilometres west of Edmonton, in Lac Ste. Anne County.

For a $50 fee, two-person teams can compete, hunting coyotes in the area for prize money.

It’s also an event that has sparked controversy, with conservation groups and individuals speaking out against it online.

“We’ve been hearing from just so many Albertans that are truly so upset and a lot of outdoor people and hunters are saying ‘Look, I hunt, but this is not something I would ever participate in’,” Coyote Watch Canada Executive Director Lesley Sampson said in an interview from Ontario.

“I think when we glorify killing at that level, if there’s a contest to win prizes – largest coyotes, smallest coyote, mangiest coyote, really it leaves a really bad taste in most peoples’ mouths.”

Despite the backlash, officials with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) said they’ve only received a few complaints about the event, now in it's fourth year.

“This is the first time we’ve received any sort of comments at all,” Duncan MacDonnell with ESRD said. “Yes, it’s the fourth annual [hunt], it’s the first I’ve heard of it.

“Some of our program were aware of it in previous years, but like I said, there was not comment, no feedback on it of any kind.”

MacDonnell said the event isn’t illegal, as it’s being held on private land, and is targeting a species he said is “stable and abundant”.

“It’s virtually impossible to count the number of coyote in this province, they are so numerous,” MacDonnell said. “We know they are healthy.”

An organizer said in the hunt’s first year, less than ten animals were killed, seven were killed in the second year, and thirteen were killed last year.

According to ESRD, coyote are classified as an agricultural pest, there is no limit on hunting them, and hunters don’t require a tag. Participants in the event must be eligible to hunt in Alberta, with a valid hunting licence, including firearms training.

“It is considered an agricultural pest, it does cause some difficulty for farmers at the same time the coyote is an important member of wildlife in the province,” MacDonnell said.

“They do serve a function, they keep down the population of rats and they compete with, say, skunks and foxes for other game so they are sort of a controlling agent for other populations, they do have a place in the ecosystem.”

However, Sampson said officials in other jurisdictions, such as California and Colorado have banned such practices – saying ways of dealing with such animal populations are changing.

An expert on coyotes said farmers in Australia, for example, have found a number of different solutions.

“Guard dogs, electric fencing, hazing, donkeys and lights and other formers of chemical deterrents to teach coyotes,” Dr. Shelley Alexander with the University of Calgary said.

“There’s a lot of ways to implement great strategies to farm successfully which are non-lethal,” Sampson said, going on to say more research is needed on the animal population.

“The science, where’s the science and how is this really fitting in with the overall ecology right now?” Sampson continued. “There’s no cataloguing of data and we don’t even know how many coyotes there are.”

Meanwhile, non-profit organization Coyote Watch Canada has alerted members to the weekend event through social media, and has asked them to reach out to government officials to protest the event.

“How do you make a decision well if you don’t have the science to back it and the government is distancing themselves,” Sampson said. “This is something that isn’t going away.”

With files from David Ewasuk