In a special Saturday session, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMGF) presented the State Game Commission with its preliminary proposal for changes to the rules and quotas for hunting bears and cougars in New Mexico.
Speaking before a crowd of almost 100 people, representatives from the Department used their old trick of increasing the amount of recognized habitat to claim that there were more bears than previously thought (NMGF used a similar tactic back in 2010 to increase the state's cougar population estimate). They also admitted that even though the results of several studies were not yet known, they believed that the findings would justify increasing the bear density level from 17 animals per 38.6 square miles to 21. A density level the Department felt justifies a 20 percent increase in the number of bears hunted and killed annually.
The bear advocates who spoke opposed increasing the hunting limits, noting that the 28 percent drop in the number of bears killed by hunters last year - even though there was no drop in licenses - was a red flag for a declining population, not the expansion the Department claimed.
The department's cougar hunting proposals include increasing bag limits and allowing private landowners to trap cougars without first getting a permit during the months of November through March.
Part of the Department's justification for the cougar rule changes was the fact that hunters were not reaching the annual mortality quota of 749 lions that the NMGF has set. Therefore other methods than "fair chase" hunting were deemed necessary to kill more lions.
The 14-year annual average of all known cougar moralities in New Mexico is 224.
Many of the wildlife advocates that attended the hearing voiced their doubts that Commission would be swayed by their comments and claimed that the department and the commission just want to kill more predators, and that the decision to kill more bears and cougars was based on politics not science.
NMGF will finalize their bear and cougar rule change proposal sometime in July. The New Mexico State Game Commission will vote on the finalized proposal at their August 27th meeting.