SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Legislation that would ban coyote-hunting competitions in New Mexico cleared its first hurdle Thursday, while a measure aimed at overhauling the mission of the state’s game and fish agency was sidelined amid concerns about financial burdens.
During a packed hearing, a majority of the Senate Conservation Committee gave the coyote bill a do-pass recommendation. It must win approval from two more committees before reaching the Senate floor for a vote.
The bill sponsored by Democrat Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces and Republican Mark Moores of Albuquerque would outlaw coyote-killing contests after a number of competitions in recent years drew anger from animal rights advocates.
Moores told the committee that the bill would not prevent landowners from hunting the predators on their property.
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“It would still allow farmers or anyone in the state to kill coyotes, just not for sport or in contests,” he said.
Ranchers, outfitters and livestock groups from around New Mexico spoke out against the measure, arguing that it would tie their hands from addressing packs of coyotes that flourish on public lands and wander onto private property.
Caren Cowan with the New Mexico Wool Growers’ Association testified that the sheep population has dropped significantly due to predators in recent years and the coyote hunts are used as a tool to reduce the threat to livestock.
Republican Sen. Pat Woods, whose district includes rural parts of eastern New Mexico, said one of his constituents had lost 200 lambs to coyotes since the beginning of the year.
“It’s hard to lure hunters to take care of that population. This is just one tool to use to do that,” he said.
Supporters of the legislation disagreed, calling the practice barbaric and questioning whether there were any scientific benefits to culling coyotes. Some said fewer coyotes would lead to more rodents and other varmints capable of carrying diseases.
Steinborn said the hunting competitions are not a management tool but rather an activity organized by a niche group for entertainment.
Supporters of the measure include wildlife biologists, animal rights groups and environmentalists. Despite the defeat of similar legislation in previous years, they pointed to recent polling that indicated New Mexico voters were against such contests, which they likened to cockfighting, a practice that was outlawed in the state several years ago.
“This is a bad social practice that needs to be stopped,” said Albuquerque resident Oscar Simpson.
The Senate committee declined to take action on a separate proposal to significantly shift the mission of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
That legislation, also sponsored by Steinborn, would give the department the authority to manage all wildlife as a public resource rather than managing game animals and fish for recreation and food as currently provided under law.
The measure also would give the gubernatorial appointees that make up the Game Commission authority over all wildlife rather than just game species.
The department said the legislation would effectively add another 6,000 species to the list of animals it’s responsible for managing, costing millions of dollars more each year.
Game and Fish Director Alexa Sandoval called the measure an unfunded mandate, noting that the department’s work is funded by sportsmen through hunting licenses and other fees. She said the department has received no additional state funding for projects to help threatened and endangered species since 2009.