SANTA FE, N.M. — On Aug. 27, the New Mexico Game Commission voted to approve trapping for cougars on 9 million acres of state trust land and private land throughout New Mexico. The commission also voted to increase bear-hunting quotas. Both decisions came without sufficient scientific evidence and in the face of overwhelming public opposition.
More than 1,000 New Mexicans sent written comments and several hundred people came to Thursday’s meeting to ask the Commission not to adopt New Mexico Game and Fish’s proposals, which may put bear populations in danger and would allow traps on private and state trust lands, where they could maim or kill not just cougars but other animals.
“We’re highly disappointed that the commissioners decided to approve killing more carnivores, especially with cruel and indiscriminate traps, and that they appeared to ignore the vast majority of New Mexicans and their wishes,” said Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife chair of Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter.
Cougars and bears are vital to natural ecosystems.
“The Department of Game and Fish has not provided any scientific evidence of cougar or bear overpopulation or a justification for why more cougars and bears must be killed,” Ray said.
At the meeting, commissioners restricted public comment to one hour — 30 minutes for each side. Those who opposed increased cougar- and bear-killing far outnumbered those in support, so the restriction meant that a disproportionate number of New Mexicans in opposition did not get their voices heard.
“With this vote, Gov. Martinez’s Game Commission has demonstrated how out of step it is with modern attitudes about wildlife,” Ray said.
At a rally before the meeting, members of the public also urged the commission to allow federal wolf release on public lands, but the commission did not take comment on that item and said it would vote on wolf release at its Sept. 29 meeting. There are only 53 wolves in the wild in New Mexico.
In May the commission declined to renew a 17-year permit to the private Ladder Ranch to pen Mexican gray wolves for release into New Mexico. And Game and Fish Department Director Alexis Sandoval denied the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a permit to release endangered Mexican gray wolves in the Gila National Forest, attempting to exert state control over the federal Endangered Species Act. The Game Commission will vote on the appeal to Fish and Wildlife’s permit denial at its September meeting.
The New Mexico Game Commission voted to approve N.M. Game and Fish Department’s proposals to initiate a trapping and snaring season for cougars on private and state lands, even though cougars are already heavily hunted and play an important role as part of their ecosystems. The commission also voted to boost the number of annual black-bear hunting permits by 25 percent, from 640 to 804, despite declining hunter success that may indicate fewer bears. The commission also voted to allow 41 percent of the bears killed to be female.