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Editorial: NM’s fighting the wrong battles for your wildlife

The New Mexico Game Commission and the Department of Game and Fish are spending your tax dollars defending the expansion of the cruel and barbaric practice of trapping when they should be revisiting an overbroad regulation that mandates killing wildlife whether it is warranted or not.

Animal Protection of New Mexico and the Humane Society of the United States are suing the commission and the department in state and federal courts over the expansion of cougar trapping on private and state trust lands. Meanwhile, New Mexico marathon runner Karen Williams, who was mauled by a black bear during a race in the Valles Caldera National Preserve, wants state regulation 7.4.2.9c changed to weigh the circumstances surrounding an animal attack rather than automatically putting the animal down.

Regarding trapping, until last year trapping on private land required a special permit from the department and was not allowed elsewhere. But in August the seven-member commission took the department’s advice and authorized recreational trapping and snaring of cougars on private land and, at the request of State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, on 9 million acres of state trust land. The department says it “will vigorously defend the rule, which is part of a world-class effort to manage New Mexico’s wildlife.”

Really? World class? Using leg-hold traps, invented in the 1800s and banned in more than 80 countries because they are archaic, cruel and indiscriminate as to what they maim and kill?

That is the crux of the lawsuits, which emphasize “littering New Mexico with leg-hold traps and snares will expose endangered Mexican wolves and jaguars to cruel and unnecessary suffering and death.” The traps also pose a threat to any unsuspecting living thing they come in contact with.

New Mexico is far from being overrun with cougars: hunters have killed around 225 each year, though 750 kills were allowed. By eliminating the requirement for a permit, Game and Fish has also eliminated the way to monitor how much of the population is being taken. And Game and Fish spent $1 million on a comprehensive, peer-reviewed cougar study that disproved the reason for the rule change in the first place – that cougars prey on livestock.

Regarding mandatory euthanasia for wildlife that attacks humans, New Mexico is not overrun with “when animals attack” cases. Each isolated incident should be evaluated on its specific circumstances, with a decision made on the merits of the case. That’s what’s happening in Montana, where wildlife officials are searching for a bear that fatally mauled a U.S. Forest Service employee after he and a fellow mountain biker apparently surprised it. Officials in Glacier National Park say, “One of the things that is key to all this is whether it was a predatory act.” Bears that attack humans in Montana are only killed if they displayed predatory behavior or consumed their victim.

Williams was mauled after stumbling upon a mother bear and her three cubs and was left alone after playing dead. Her bear was not stalking her, yet it was hunted down, killed, and its brain tested for rabies. A state Health Department rule says any wild animal “which bites or otherwise exposes a person to rabies shall be destroyed immediately and the head sent to the laboratory for testing.”

It’s no surprise the rabies test was negative; no bear has tested positive for rabies in two decades here, according to the department.

Trapping season for cougars doesn’t begin until Nov. 1, and instead of doubling down on a bad decision the commission and the department should abandon plans to expand trapping and move into the 21st century. At the same time officials should advocate for a revision to the rule requiring euthanizing of any animal that attacks a human.

Because those moves would show officials truly want to help “conserve, regulate, propagate and protect the wildlife and fish within the state of New Mexico using a flexible management system.”

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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