Wildlife management or wildlife destruction?

Protest at NM Game & Fish Dept. - photo by MK Ray

On June 21, the state Game Commission rubber-stamped Game and Fish’s
recommendation to drastically increase allowed bear and cougar kills in New Mexico.

By Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife Chair

What exactly is meant when the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish uses the words “wildlife management”? When it comes to carnivores, it means one thing: killing. Game and Fish is proposing to increase the number of bears being killed despite only two years having passed since the quotas were raised dramatically already.

If Game and Fish’s statewide bear-elimination program goes with the plan to kill 664 bears and then 628 dead bears for each of the next four years with bears, a five-year total of 3,176 bears will be killed,or over half of the entire population estimate, which is already inflated. This number is about 82 percent higher than the previous five years and it doesn’t include any deaths from poaching, natural die-off and depredation complaints.

The situation for cougars is not much better. Cougar attacks on people are astonishingly rare and can be prevented by taking precautions such as hiking in groups, making noise and keeping children close at hand. But Game and Fish asked Game Commissioners in 2010 to drastically increase the allowable cougar kill and the Commission complied by raising it 50 percent.

The agency already traps and kills every cougar it can in the newly de-listed bighorn-sheep ranges. (Hunting licenses so people can kill bighorns bring in significant revenue to Game and Fish.) And as with bears, the Department uses the flimsiest of data to justify its inflated population count. So much so that according to them, New Mexico has a higher cougar density than any state in the U.S. This is higher even than California which outlawed cougar hunting more than 20 years ago.

Despite these high quotas, cougar killers in our state have so far not been able to meet them, so the agency now wants to make it easier to kill more. They are proposing to increase the bag limit from one to two, to not count any depredation complaints against any quota, and to have year-round killing. This last means that dependent cougar kittens will be orphaned when their mothers are killed and will also die — uncounted and unknown.

Worse still, the agency is asking game commissioners to allow the Department director to unilaterally authorize cougar trapping on public land without any oversight from anyone. Done despite the outcry over trapping of any species on public land last year, this move to permit even more traps could not more betray the public process and the faith entrusted in the agency aspublic servants.

No one really knows what the bear or cougar populations of New Mexico are. Game and Fish says bears must be killed in high numbers so that they can survive the lean times of the drought we are having now. But if they’re dead, they are not surviving. The agency says it wants dead cougars so people will be safe. Actually, research literature indicates that as the population declines and older animals are killed off — animals that would naturally keep the population density lower by defending their territories —
younger animals begin to rule the day. With no adults to teach them how to hunt, they go after easy and unusual prey: livestock, pets and humans. This is why states with very high levels of cougar killing also report many cougar problems with people.

Already the agency has demonstrated no love for carnivores. Unlimited numbers of bobcats, foxes and other mid-sized predators of all genders and ages are allowed to be trapped and killed for a long 4.5-month season even on public land and despite an unknown by-catch of unintended victims.

No consideration is given for the effect on wildlife populations from the hundreds of thousand of acres in prime habitat burned by wildfire this year and in recent years. Last year, the Game Commission restored trapping to the Gila despite the danger to critically imperiled wolves and thenwithdrew support from the wolf-reintroduction program entirely.

As expected, at the June 21 Game Commission meeting in Ruidoso, with very little discussion, Game and Fish obtained unanimous approval to kill even more bears and cougars. These Commissioners are appointees of Gov. Martinez and all the more reason that elections matter.