SANTA FE, N.M. — Some northern New Mexico ranchers are asking state wildlife managers to do something about herds of elk they say are damaging property and eating hay that was stockpiled for cattle over the winter.
Members of the Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association reported the damage to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish last week and notified the agency that they would have to start shooting the elk. State law allows landowners to lethally remove animals that are causing damage on private property.
Ranchers from the small community of Canjilon north to Chama and elsewhere on the fringes of Carson National Forest have reported similar problems over the years, accusing wildlife managers of not doing enough to keep the elk population in check.
They have asked for more hunting permits to be issued and say they should be compensated for the loss of hay and for damage caused by trespassing elk that try to jump fences and access pens.
David Sanchez, a member of the stockman’s group, said he expects ranchers in the area will have to keep shooting elk through spring.
“Migration through our property is intense and is destroying our resources, water and improvements,” he said. “We estimate from past migration up to 1,000 elk.”
While the Game and Fish Department has no compensation program, spokeswoman Tristanna Bickford said Friday the agency tries to work with ranchers ahead of time in hopes of preventing damage by providing fencing to protect crops and hay stacks.
She also said that since 2018, the agency has increased the number of hunting permits by 67% for an area that includes a large swath of land from Taos Junction west to the Rio Chama and beyond.
The weather is believed to play a role in the movement of herds, according to department biologists. Elk tend to hang out in the high country during the summer and during the fall hunting season. If the mountains see heavy snowpack during the winter, they move into lower elevations where there is more private property.
The department provides eligible landowners with hunting permits during hunting season if they have problems with elk or deer. Department lists show hundreds of landowners around the state participate in the program.
In southern New Mexico, wildlife managers have completed what they say is the largest elk capture effort over the largest study area in department history. The work across the Gila region, home to one of the state’s largest elk herds, is aimed at learning more about elk survival, causes of mortality, predator relationships, habitat use and movements.