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Groups Urge Biological Scrutiny to Avoid Extirpation of New Mexico's Largest Native Carnivores
ALBUQUERQUEAt its Saturday, August 28th public hearing in Albuquerque, the New Mexico Game Commission will consider hunting quotas for cougars and bears proposed by the State’s wildlife agency. WildEarth Guardians, Animal Protection of New Mexico, and the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club vehemently reject the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish’s proposal as too drastic and harmful. The Agency seeks to jump hunting quotas by 140 percent for cougars and 60 percent for bears. Simultaneously, the Agency called for examining regulations only every four years, essentially disenfranchising the public from the rulemaking process during that period. Most, if not all, Western states review bear and cougar quotas annually.
"The Game and Fish’s cougar and bear proposals represent a radical departure from years of prudent stewardship encouraged by the Richardson administration,” said Phil Carter, Wildlife Campaign Manager for Animal Protection of New Mexico. “The Agency’s proposals simply can’t be justified,” he added.
“By throwing prudency to the wind, the Agency will harm the State’s cougars and bears while simultaneously cutting out the public’s tongue," declared Wendy Keefover-Ring, Carnivore Protection Director for WildEarth Guardians.
The Game and Fish Department calls for cougar mortality to go from 490 to 1,180 animals, a 140% increase, each year for the next four years. It also seeks to increase the kill of female cougars, from 126 to 457, or a 263% annual increase.
“At the same time it proposes high levels of cougar mortality, Game and Fish wants to remove the protective backstop that currently shuts off hunting to protect breeding females and their dependent kittens in each hunting zone,” stated Mary Katherine Ray, of the Sierra Club. “Breeding females are key to species survival, but heavy exploitation in the form of trophy hunting will kill mother cats and leave orphaned young to starve,” she noted.
The Agency is not relying on a seminal 10-year-long, peer-reviewed, published study on cougars of New Mexico, but on a yet unpublished four-year study by a student. The study reportedly triples the abundance of cougars in the State and has received no outside scrutiny, but yet it provides the basis upon which the Agency is basing its enormous quota increases, according to Agency officials the groups met with yesterday.
The Department also proposes unsustainable increases in bear-hunt permits—an overall statewide increase from 406 to 686 black bears, a 59% jump annually, while increasing the kill of female bears.
Yesterday, the Agency cited anecdotal stories of human-wildlife encounters as the reason it wants to increase the kill of New Mexico’s cougar and bear populations.
“Intuitively, it might seem like killing cougars would protect human safety, but no evidence exists that proves that sport hunting makes humans safer. In fact, abundant research indicates that the exact opposite is true. By over-exploiting a cougar population, the age structure changes to one that is younger and more socially unstable,” said Keefover-Ring.
“New Mexicans appreciate the beauty and majesty of large carnivores like cougars and black bears,” said Carter. “They are necessary in maintaining the balance of nature,” he said.
Background Information: The New Mexico Game Commission will be hearing testimony from the public on the hunt quotas at their August 28 meeting at the Albuquerque Marriott hotel, and the commission will take a final vote at its September meeting in Ruidoso. The Game Commission also accepts comments via mail and email. Visit http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/commission/index.htm for information regarding the New Mexico Game Commission.
Read the joint letter sent to the New Mexico Game Commission.