Bears and Cougars lose with new hunting rules

By Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife Chair

In October, the New Mexico Game Commission unanimously voted to approve new bear and cougar hunting rules that will be in place for the next four years.

The Commission failed to consider the effects of the massive Black Fire, the second-largest in state history, and its destruction of habitat in the Gila and is allowing 50 more black bears to be killed in that hunting zone. The season to pursue black bears with dogs will start in mid-August rather than the first of September in the Sacramento mountains of Southern New Mexico.

Cougar-hunting quotas remain unjustifiably high in 16 of 18 cougar zones. Cougar hunting with dogs is already allowed year-round, and that, sadly, will continue. Cougars and bears that die outside of hunting either, from depredation complaints or as roadkill, will not be counted against the hunting quotas.

Before the vote, Game commissioners offered no discussion beyond obsequious praise for the Department of Game and Fish and its proposals. No Game commissioner nor any representative of the Department responded to our extensive and well annotated concerns (you can find them here).

Dr. Ken Logan, a wildlife research biologist who spent 40 years studying cougars and documenting his work in peer-reviewed scientific journals with his wife, Dr. Linda Sweanor, sent written comments and testified that even if the cougar population numbers were accurate, the proposed 17-24% harvest rates would likely cause a decline in cougar populations. If cougar declines are not the intent, the science indicates that the harvest should be no more than 14% of the overall population. Because of the minimal information provided by the department, the public has no way to know if declines are the intent. Dr. Logan noted that most other western states have detailed statewide cougar management plans and that New Mexico should too. But he was thoroughly ignored. Also ignored were the thoughtful comments from more than 1,000 of you who emailed and testified in open meetings.

Never has it been clearer that New Mexico needs game commissioners who have the ability to critically review scientific information, see beyond the narrow goal of providing “hunter opportunity,” and understand the significance of large carnivores to the biotic community and the negative impacts that recreational hunting has on them. This will have to be remedied by the state legislature. Stay tuned.

Featured image of cougar by Mary Katherine Ray

Bears and Cougars lose with new hunting rules