SANTA FE – After a debate that had rural New Mexico senators howling about urban overreach, a proposal to ban coyote-killing contests passed the Senate 26-15 on Thursday.
The proposal, Senate Bill 268, is the latest attempt to outlaw coyote-killing contests, which critics describe as an immoral and “barbaric” blood sport.
However, the measure could face tough sledding in the House, where a similar proposal stalled two years ago.
The House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee, which could be the bill’s next stop, is a 10-member panel whose members are from largely rural districts.
During Thursday’s debate on the Senate floor, opponents of the legislation described the contests – in which participants often use calling devices to lure coyotes into range – as legitimate competitions and lamented the animal’s appetite for newborn cows, sheep and other livestock.
“It is a tool for the agricultural community as a whole,” said Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell. “This, to me, looks like big brother Albuquerque (and) Las Cruces telling the rest of the state what it can and can’t do.”
But backers of the measure said coyote-killing contests sully the state’s reputation.
“I don’t think we want to be known for having killing contests in our state,” said Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces.
They also pointed out that the legislation would still allow ranchers to protect their livestock and disputed the claim that killing contests are a legitimate predator management tool.
The bill would make organizing a coyote-killing contest a misdemeanor offense and participating in one a petty misdemeanor.
Wildlife advocates say dozens of coyote-killing contests have been organized around New Mexico in recent years. Such contests typically award prize money – and in some cases firearms – for the most coyotes killed or the biggest coyote killed.
Some of the contests have prompted public outcries, including a 2014 incident in which more than 40 dead coyotes were dumped in the desert outskirts of Las Cruces, some with wood blocks in their mouths marked with the date they were killed
Unlike many other issues at the Roundhouse, the push to outlaw coyote-killing contests does not divide lawmakers along partisan lines.
The bill approved Thursday has bipartisan sponsors – Sens. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque – and bipartisan opposition.
The final tally of senators voting against the legislation included five Democrats and 10 Republicans.
“I think these contests … are counterproductive to everything we consider New Mexico True,” Steinborn said, referring to the state’s tourism slogan.
But Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, challenged that claim, saying, “I don’t think it gives the state a bad name any more than cage-fighting for people.”