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On March 13, 2015, the New Mexico House Agriculture, Water, and Wildlife Committee advanced a bill that would effectively treat the state’s mountain lions as nuisance animals. This legislation would overturn a regulation that currently protects females with cubs from being hunted, as well as removing the requirement of a hunting license in order to harvest a mountain lion.
This would mean that there is open season on mountain lions; they could be hunted or trapped at any time without harvest limits. If the bill passes, the state’s Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) will no longer hold the authority to regulate mountain lions as a game animal or manage their population. It would also take away their ability to respond to complaints about mountain lions and remove problem animals.
Wildlife officials estimate there are between 3,000 to 4,500 mountain lions in New Mexico. Every year, 2,000 hunting licenses are issued and a maximum of 700 cats can be harvested, although hunters usually only take about 200 animals.
According to State Representative Zach Cook (R-Ruidoso) too few animals are being taken to control the mountain lion population. Representative Cook has the support of ranchers, who say that mountain lions have been killing livestock. With the addition of the ongoing drought, ranchers believe that the situation is unsustainable and that management of mountain lions needs to change.
However, critics of the bill say it’s lacking any science and is a knee-jerk reaction to anecdotal reports of runaway mountain lion populations killing pets and livestock. They are calling the bill illogical, because it is taking away the legal authority of wildlife professionals in the NMDGF to manage cougar populations.
Alexandra Sandoval, Director of the NMDGF, estimates that removing about 700 mountain lions annually should keep the population stable. However, the NMDGF is working to track some lions with GPS collars to get a better understanding of the population dynamics.
The bill has two more committee assignments in the House of Representatives. If it clears both, it would go to the full 70-member House for a floor vote.
SCI Foundation works to ensure that the best available science is used in wildlife policy and management. SCI Foundation will closely follow this piece of legislation and keep you updated on its status.