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Editorial: 3 wildlife bills cost zero, provide moral high ground

There is a trio of wildlife bills proposed this legislative session that would cost the state – and thus taxpayers – nothing in cash while earning them the moral high ground when it comes to respecting New Mexico’s wildlife and ecosystems, which belong to those same taxpayers.

The first bill is a reworked version of last year’s proposal to ban traps and poisons on public land. It would stop the use of traps – leghold, conibear and snare – as well as poisons including sodium cyanide M-44s and Compound 1080 collars. All are indiscriminate, and all cause painful injuries and excruciating deaths.

Leg-hold traps were invented in the 1800s and have been banned in more than 80 countries, and banned or severely restricted in eight states, because they are archaic, cruel and indiscriminate. Poisons, which have accidentally killed badgers, bears, bobcats, foxes, birds and pets, cause equally gruesome outcomes. Yet the New Mexico Game Commission and Department of Game and Fish expanded trapping onto public lands, including state trust lands, last year and removed the permit requirement for cougars. This month the agencies were on the losing end of an anti-trapping lawsuit filed by Animal Protection of New Mexico and the Humane Society of the United States – the departments lost their bid to have the federal court dismiss that suit.

The crux of the lawsuits is the risk the traps, set for cougars, pose to endangered Mexican wolves and jaguars – a valid argument bolstered by the fact that any living thing, including a dog in the Sandias last year, is at risk of stepping into their jaws/loops. In addition, Game and Fish is ignoring the conclusions of its $1 million study that showed cougars do not prey on livestock; the biology shows cougars (like coyotes) are compensatory breeders that will increase litters to fill a population void; removing predators increases the populations of skunks, mice and other rodents in the short term; and by eliminating the requirement for a cougar permit, Game and Fish has also eliminated its ability to monitor that population.

The proposed bill includes numerous, clear exemptions to the bans and would not affect any activities on private land, or hunting or fishing on public land, and would still allow some use of trapping and poisons to protect human health and safety when that’s the only feasible option.

The second piece of legislation would ban coyote-killing contests. The bill was introduced last session and is a carefully and narrowly crafted bipartisan proposal that protects the rights of true sportsmen, ranchers and residents by ending one thing, and one thing only: the practice of shooting as many coyotes as quickly as possible. The contests are not about removing a predatory threat or gathering pelts and meat or a trophy; like cockfighting, which the Legislature banned, they are only about blood sport. New Mexico is better than strapping knives on game birds to watch them fight to the death, and it is better than encouraging grotesque kill-fests that upset the delicate balance of predator and prey.

The third proposal, already introduced as HB 109, is in response to the killing last year of a mother black bear who defended her cubs when a marathon runner stumbled upon them. Victim Karen Williams of Los Alamos helped develop the legislation so that officials would not by law have to automatically hunt down, kill and take the head of a wild animal and test it for rabies. Instead, like Montana, officials would be able to use discretion and consider the current risk of rabies in specific wildlife populations (there has not been a case in black bears here in two decades) as well as whether a wild animal acted in self-defense, before requiring a rabies test. Those wild animals that exhibit predatory behavior toward humans or symptoms of rabies would still be killed and tested.

The Journal has repeatedly recognized New Mexico’s long and proud history of hunting and coexisting with nature, which true sportsmen understand requires a respect for wildlife and its ecosystems to remain sustainable. Banning traps and poisons on public land, ending coyote-killing contests and allowing for judicious reviews of circumstances in wildlife encounters would each do just that.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in both chambers should take a close look at all three bills, recognize that they cost taxpayers nothing while earning them the moral high ground, and send them to Gov. Susana Martinez for her signature – and for the health of New Mexico’s public lands.

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.