Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Commission To Hold Bear-Kill Meeting
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES — The state Game Commission is expected to draw a vocal crowd at its meeting in Mescalero on Thursday when the board considers a controversial proposal to increase the number of bears and cougars that hunters can kill.
The state allowed up to 406 black bears to be killed in New Mexico this year, but the Game and Fish Department proposes raising that limit to 686 next year, a 69 percent increase in the hunting harvest.
The hike in the kill limit, according to state officials, is aimed at aligning bear populations with good habitat, reducing conflicts between bears and humans, curbing elk calf predation and providing hunting opportunities that increase revenue for the state.
Various conservationists have objected to the Game and Fish Department proposals. They have challenged the accuracy of the black bear population estimate, which the state says is between 5,300 and 6,500, and discounted the plan's ability to reduce conflicts between humans and bears in search of food during times of drought.
"They (Game and Fish) are going with the highest percentage of kill-off they can get based on the highest guesstimate" of the bear population, said Jan Hayes, founder of the conservation group Sandia Mountain BearWatch. Hayes said that if approved, the plan would devastate the black bear population in the Sandias and Manzanos.
Game and Fish spokesman Marty Frentzel said the population estimates are based in part on field counts and mainly the carrying capacity of prime bear habitat.
The proposals do have the support of hunters and others concerned about encounters between campers and bears.
In response to an outpouring of public comments about the controversial proposals, Frentzel said the Game Commission will review bear kill limits annually, rather than every four years as originally proposed. State officials have also removed a proposal that would have allowed the use of mechanical calls to lure bears.
The original number of bears proposed to be killed next year — 733, including 318 females — was scaled back, Frentzel said, due to an error in the calculation of bear habitat.
The commission will also consider a proposal to raise the limit on the number of cougars killed from 490 this year to 996 next year. The state estimates there are between 3,100 and 4,300 cougars across New Mexico.
The Game Commission meets at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino at Mescalero.