SANTA FE, N.M. — Ruidoso apparently will be the site of a coyote contest hunt this weekend.
The hunt comes at the same time members of the New Mexico State Legislature are considering Senate Bill 253, sponsored by Sens. Mark Moores, a Republican from Albuquerque and Jeff Steinborn, a Democrat from Las Cruces, that would ban staging or participating in hunt competitions that offer prizes.
A group called Antlers Obsession Outdoors circulated information about the rules of the local hunt and how winners will be determined. On the Antlers website, Rusty Silva is listed as the guide and outfitter of the business, but the Ruidoso News was unable to contact him for comment. The notice specifically states that no Calcutta, which is illegal in New Mexico, will be allowed where betters gamble on how well a particular contestant will fare.
Preston Stone, a rancher and chairman of the Lincoln County Commission, said he’s not against the contest hunts. While he doesn’t find much in the current legislation that is objectionable, he said he’s worried that passage of the bill would set a precedent and the next bill introduced would be more detrimental to the ranching industry. The next bill also might further restrict or remove the predator control services now used heavily by ranchers in Lincoln County, he said, adding that the licensed predator control trappers already have seen many of their weapons for controlling coyote removed.
Phil Carter, wildlife campaign manager for Animal Protection of New Mexico, said coyotes are classified in the state as unprotected fur bearers and that’s one of the drivers of such hunts, where the goal is to “rack up bodies” for a prize or payoff.
Coyote killing contests hit the news in 2012 when it was learned that a state game commissioner was president of a group sponsoring a hunt in Farmington, he said. That was followed by a battle between a Los Lunas gun shop owner, who was sponsoring a coyote hunt contest, and opponents of such hunts.
Carter said his group is a lobbying organization with the goal of improving the lives of domestic and wild animals. Members have been working with the sponsors of the legislation to make sure it was targeted to contest hunts and did not infringe on anyone’s right to protect property and livestock, he said.
“If this passes, it still will be legal to shoot coyotes,” Carter said. “We ran a similar bill in 2013, with a House sponsor and it made it through committees, then was narrowly defeated on the House floor, because it became (mixed up) with gun rights issues. We’ve been careful that this bill only targets contests for prizes.”
The legislation was introduced two weeks ago near the beginning of the session.
“It’s doing well and passed the Senate Conservation committee Tuesday in a bipartisan vote, he said. “It was a good hearing, including hunters and ranchers.”
The date for SB253’s last hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee has not been set, he said.
Testimony was tense
During the emotional two-hour session that drew a standing-room-only crowd, people spoke passionately on both sides of the issue before the committee endorsed the bill to ban such contests on a 6-3 vote.
The issue cut across political and ideological lines. Ranchers spoke both for and against the bill. Hunters were split over it, as were Democrats and Republicans, which may be a preview of the debates to come as the legislation moves forward.
Some ranchers said if the state Department of Game and Fish managed coyote populations better, no need would exist for coyote-killing contests. But Alexandra Sandoval, the department’s director, said Game and Fish has no authority to manage coyotes, because they are not a protected species under state law. When several opponents of the bill said legislators shouldn’t stray into making decisions about the morals and ethics of killing coyote, Republican Sen. John Ryan of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque disagreed.
“We consider moral and ethical issues all day long,” he said. Farmers and ranchers should be able to kill as many coyotes as needed to sustain their livelihoods, but coyote killing contests, “don’t seem fair,” Ryan said.
The senators also unanimously supported an amended version of SB82, sponsored by Sen. Howard Morales, a Democrat from Silver City, that would ban the use of drones for tracking animals such as elk or deer, and transmitting the information for use in hunting. That bill’s next stop also is the Senate Judiciary.
Stone said contest hunts began about 10 years ago. Before that ranchers would depend on each other to mount drives against the coyotes when the animals became a problem. He recalled seeing 70 or more ranchers on horseback hunting to control them.
“The coyote is a canine, a predator and a tremendous reproducer,” Stone said, “He’s always adapted to anything mankind could throw at him to control his numbers. Ranchers are not out to drive any species to extinction, but when coyotes run with three or more together, they’ll take baby calves, sheep or lambs.”
He said the Los Lunas hunt turned into a battle between the gun shop owner staging the hunt and urban opponents,
“But this is a rural issue,” he said. To keep it that way, ranchers need to be able to control coyote numbers, or being as adaptable as they are coyotes will move into urban areas as they have in California and then the outcry will come from pet owners as their small dogs and cats disappear, he said.
Reporter Staci Matlock of The New Mexican contributed to this story.
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