ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A revised plan by the state Game and Fish Department would allow more cougars to be hunted and could push the animal to the brink of extinction in New Mexico, some environmentalists claim.
The state Game Commission is set to make a final decision on hunting limits for both cougars and bears during an Oct. 28 meeting in Ruidoso. The proposals garnered much attention during public meetings last summer.
WildEarth Guardians and Animal Protection of New Mexico contend the department’s cougar proposal represents more than a 100 percent increase over current hunting quotas, which stand at about 490 cougars from New Mexico’s various game management units. For females, the quota would go from 126 to more than 380.
“These hunt proposals, with their extreme prejudice against females, have the potential to bring cougar populations to the brink of extinction in New Mexico,” Wendy Keefover-Ring of WildEarth Guardians said in a statement.
The Game and Fish Department maintains that increased hunts would address depredation and safety issues in many areas, while still leaving New Mexico with a sustainable population.
Based on public comments received over the last few months, department officials said they added language to the proposed rule that would require the agency to review cougar and bear harvest information each year along with population trends so commissioners could determine whether hunting quotas need to be changed for upcoming seasons.
“There are lots of checks and balances built into this stuff,” said Marty Frentzel, a spokesman for the agency.
He added that the agency’s director can also alter hunting limits for any species in one direction or the other depending on what effects are being seen in the field.
The revised proposal also includes a provision that would require all cougar hunters to take an online identification course prior to hunting the animals.
Frentzel said the agency believes there is a healthy population of cougars in New Mexico and it can withstand a higher harvest.
The environmental groups argue that the agency isn’t being forthcoming with information about how it calculated cougar populations. They have submitted a public records request seeking the study used in determining cougar numbers.
Keefover-Ring said department officials have “a huge public accountability problem.”
The department’s proposal aims to reduce the estimated cougar population to between 3,100 and nearly 4,400. Officials recommend reducing the population by about 5 percent per year over the next four years in eight areas. Elsewhere, the population would be managed to keep numbers stable.
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