Expanded cougar trapping challenged in federal, state courts

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

Animal Protection New Mexico and The Humane Society of the United States filed notices on Thursday 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.

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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.”

Game Commission Chairman Paul Kienzle could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Because we’re being sued, I can’t answer any questions,” said Bill Montoya, the commission’s vice chairman.

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 over strenuous objections that the decision was rooted in politics, not science.

The commissioners are appointed by the governor, and opponents of the rule claim the administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is anti-predator and caters to the livestock industry.

The rule removed the requirement to obtain permits to trap cougars on private lands, and – for the first time – allowed cougar leg-hold trapping and snaring on the 9 million acres of trust lands managed by the State Land Office.

It also doubled the per-hunter limit for shooting cougars from two to four in most areas, although the statewide limit of about 750 would remain.

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The revised rule – which the Game Commission said at the time was “based on sound science and research” – applies in the new licensing year, which begins April 1.

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 was “nothing more than a random guess.”

“The overwhelming scientific evidence dictates that cougar abundance is far lower than asserted by the commission,” the animal protection groups said.

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

The groups contend there is substantial overlap between the areas where cougars can be trapped and the habitat of Mexican wolves and jaguars. And while federal law prohibits trapping Mexican wolves or jaguars – and the cougar rule itself prohibits killing female cougars accompanied by young kittens – the traps are indiscriminate, they said.

Hikers and their dogs are likely to be snagged as well, they said. The petitioners include people whose dogs have been injured in traps.

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