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Doña Ana amends procedures for controlling wildlife

A few coyotes are getting too close to people around the main post at White Sands Missile Range, officials say

A coyote spotted at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in 2010. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

LAS CRUCES – After heated public comments, Doña Ana County commissioners voted last week to amend a contract to require a wildlife control program to use at least two nonlethal attempts before resorting to killing an animal unless the animal poses an imminent threat to human health or safety.

Commissioner Manuel Sanchez introduced the amendment after more than two dozen people voiced both their support and opposition to current lethal wildlife control methods used by Wildlife Services, a federal program under the Department of Agriculture, to control animals that are “dangerous” or a “nuisance.”

“I understand that Wildlife Services spent $36,000 in taxpayer dollars since July 1, 2018, to kill 51 coyotes, 281 skunks and 16 rock squirrels in the county. If it wasn’t so sad, I would have laughed,” said Olivia Solomon, a former wildlife rehabilitator who was among those urging county commissioners to consider alternatives to lethal control methods.

Many of those who packed the meeting for a chance to speak for three minutes questioned using traps and poison to catch or kill wildlife, especially on public land.

“You must remember as much as this land is ours, it’s also theirs and we must be able to find ways to cohabitate,” Luis Guerrero said.

But other residents and ranchers credited Wildlife Services for helping them get rid of the coyotes that kill their livestock.

Rancher Steve Wilmeth told the commissioners about a cow in his herd that had given birth earlier this month.

“By the time we got back to her, the calf had been eaten, and she had been eaten on by the pack of coyotes,” Wilmeth said. “I euthanized her and if you’ve ever done that you will remember it for the rest of your life. There are two sides to this story.”

Karen Chavez, a rancher in northern Doña Ana County, credited Mike Graves with Wildlife Services for his professionalism in helping control coyotes on her land.

“He has used the utmost care to make sure nothing is set where anyone’s pets could be trapped or caught,” Chavez said. She said the method ensured only the “targeted predator” was caught. “That’s not luck. That’s skill,” Chavez said.

Several residents questioned the use of the controversial M-44 cyanide bombs.

“If you’re going to approve cyanide bombs that’s fine as a long as you do one thing: watch one coyote die in that cyanide bomb,” Peter Osorio told the commissioners.

State Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, urged the commissioners to take “a judicious approach” when allowing lethal wildlife control methods like cyanide bombs. “People’s pets have been killed by these devices,” he said.

According to Wildlife Services, the cyanide bombs kill the targeted animal 97% of the time, and the agency also puts up signs warning the public about the poison. But Steinborn said the cyanide bombs have no place on public lands at a time when Doña Ana County is growing its outdoor economy.

“We should not be having these devices where visitors and pets can get them,” he told commissioners.

The Las Cruces-based Southwest Environmental Center turned in a petition during the meeting urging Doña Ana County commissioners to adopt a people’s contract with wildlife.

“It is disappointing that our commissioners did not fully adopt the People’s Contract, which included bans on leg hold traps, M-44 cyanide bombs, and aerial gunning of wildlife,” said Amanda Munro, communications director and field organizer for the Southwest Environmental Center.

The organization vows to continue to fight for changes in wildlife management policies and also thanked commissioners who voted for the amendment.

“However, this contract does not go nearly far enough to ensure the humane treatment of our wildlife or to promote an ethic of coexistence,” Munro said. “This issue is not going away.”

The amended contract for Wildlife Services passed in a 4-1 vote with District 3 Commissioner Shannon Reynolds voting against the new contract.