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Animal protection groups challenge expanded cougar trapping

SANTA FE, N.M. — Animal protection groups are challenging the New Mexico State Game Commission in state and federal courts, alleging that the expansion of cougar trapping it authorized last year is illegal.

Animal Protection New Mexico and The Humane Society of the United States filed notices today that they are appealing to the state Court of Appeals and also will sue the state Game Commission in federal court.

At the same time, they filed a request with the Game Commission to stay the new Bear and Cougar Rule while the appeal is pending.

They say the commission adopted the rule allowing cougar trapping on 9 million acres of state lands, in addition to private lands, “without any sound scientific basis” for estimating the number of cougars.

And they say the expanded trapping will result in the illegal taking of federally protected Mexican wolves and endangered jaguars, violating the Endangered Species Act.

Jessica Johnson of Animal Protection New Mexico called the Game Commission’s action “an egregious decision that appears to be based on fictitious data.”

The seven-member commission, at the recommendation of the Department of Game and Fish, adopted a revision to the Bear and Cougar rule in August. It lifted the requirement to obtain permits to trap cougars on private lands, and — for the first time — allows cougar leg-hold trapping and snaring on the trust lands managed by the State Land Office.

The plaintiffs say the information about the size and density of the cougar population that the commission relied on to justify expanded hunting and trapping “is nothing more than a random guess.”

“The overwhelming scientific evidence dictates that cougar abundance is far lower than asserted by the Commission,” undermining the rule, the animal protection groups say in the request for the stay.

Traps and snares that would be used on state and private land also could trap deer, elk, javelina, bear, cows, horses and other animals, according to the request for stay.

Federal law prohibits trapping Mexican wolves or jaguars, and the cougar rule itself prohibits killing female cougars accompanied by spotted kittens. But the traps are indiscriminate — and likely to snag hikers and their dogs as well, the groups said.

The petitioners requesting the stay include people whose dogs have been caught in traps, including the founder of Mountain Canine Corps, a search and rescue organization that uses dogs to locate and rescue people — primarily in wilderness areas.