SANTA FE – A bipartisan bill that would outlaw coyote-killing contests in New Mexico took a step forward Tuesday, although opponents said the measure would allow for government infringement on private property rights.
The Senate Conservation Committee voted 6-3 in favor of the proposed ban, with backers calling coyote-killing contests an immoral “blood sport” that sullies the state’s image.
“This has nothing to do with hunting; it has nothing to do with sporting. It’s killing for fun,” said former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, one of dozens of people who showed up at the Capitol on Tuesday to testify in support of the bill.
However, opponents of the legislation raised questions about enforcing the proposed ban and said it could lead to other sporting competitions – like bass fishing contests – being outlawed.
“These coyote-calling contests are a management tool,” said Phil Bidegain, a rancher from eastern New Mexico. “I think God did give us dominion over the animals.”
Coyote-killing contests are in the cross hairs of lawmakers after the recent discovery of nearly 40 coyote carcasses in the desert outside Las Cruces after such a contest sparked renewed interest in the issue. A 2013 attempt to ban such contests was killed on the House floor.
Under this year’s bill, Senate Bill 253, coyote hunting and killing coyotes to protect property would remain legal. The bill also would not prohibit killing contests of other unprotected species. Organizing or participating in a coyote-killing contests would become a misdemeanor.
Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, who is co-sponsoring the legislation with Rep. Jeff Steinborn, a Las Cruces Democrat, said the bill was carefully drafted so as not to penalize ranchers or other landowners for shooting predatory coyotes.
“That’s not our intent at all, to infringe on anyone’s ability to protect their private property,” Moores told the Journal after Tuesday’s vote.
But Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, said he doesn’t think coyote-killing derbies represent a “huge grievance” to society, adding, “It’s a practical thing to do.”
Wildlife advocates say more than 20 coyote-killing contests were held in New Mexico during a recent two-year period. Such contests typically award prize money to whatever individual, or team, can kill the most coyotes during a set time period.
Critics of the contests also cite studies suggesting that mass killings do not actually help control coyote populations, partly because they disrupt the animals’ social structure and can cause breeding levels to increase.
The 6-3 vote in the Senate Conservation Committee appeared to reflect more of an urban-rural split than a partisan divide.
The three senators who voted in opposition to the measure were all from largely rural districts – Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, and Sen. Woods.
Five of the six senators who voted in favor of the ban on coyote-killing contests were from Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces, three of the state’s most populous cities.
The bill’s next stop will be the Senate Judiciary Committee.