by Stephen Capra
If history is a guide, there will be people writing about state Game and Fish Departments 100 years from now, much in the way we once wrote about those who destroyed the bison, or commercial hunters that wiped out entire species for money. Today in New Mexico and throughout our country Game and Fish departments are guided, not by principle, science, or morality, but by a very narrow group of special interests. Those that pay the ultimate price are the very wildlife that institution is entrusted to protect.
This past Thursday we were witness, not to some act of democracy, but a smokescreen where those people (chosen by our Governor,) held a meeting to supposedly solicit comments to decide the fates of species. Rather we were witness to seven people committed to the predator genocide, who were as ignorant as they were arrogant; true believers in their internal model that makes wildlife suffer and die. All this was to appease the 3.5% (and shrinking) of the population that hunt and a handful of ranchers, who maintain an iron grip on wildlife and public lands.
Republicans like to hammer democrats about so-called “socialism or collectivism” mocking it as somehow an obstacle to “freedom.” Yet, watching this commission is reminiscent of true totalitarian regime; they could care less about facts, science, emotion and logic. Every aspect of the meeting was preordained. There was no chance that anything would change as a result of the more than hundreds of people that packed the room, with at least 75% supporting wolf recovery and against expanding the bear kill and cougar trapping.
This Game and Fish Commission (and frankly all Game and Fish Commissions,) must be removed. They are an artifact of a bygone era; political appointments with an agenda: even under democratic governors, they appear to be a gift to the ranching community that keeps on giving, leaving a wildlife killing field in its wake.
At this meeting, the Game and Fish biologist testified, and frankly bragged about their scientific methods to reach their decision to raise the quotas on the bear hunt, despite the fact that last year they were not able to even meet their own quota by more than 28%. While the method is sound, the interpretation of the data was flawed, by greatly exaggerating the quantity of good bear habitat, making the entire state seem like a bear oasis, by doubling prime habitat in some areas.
Cougars we were told, are now a serious threat to ranching operations. No worries; this commission was only too happy to help out with immediate support for more killing, even trapping of these magnificent creatures, all in the name of helping ranchers, even expanding the slaughter into New Mexico State Trust land as a bonus.
All of this came just minutes after the commission made their disdain for wolves clear: during a Q & A session with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), they represented Mexican wolves as a threat; fear was their main talking point and they expressed grave concern about the fact that wolf population is actually doing well.
In what was a clearly scripted questioning session, they hammered away at the earlier USFWS numbers, calling for 100 wolves in the wild as a temporary number to prevent extinction. The agency continually revises that number, (which was originally set to minimize rancher push-back,) to what will likely be about 350 wolves in three territories within the state. Naturally, the Commission chose to stall the process, and is setting the stage for forcing the USFWS to sue the NM State Game and Fish Department to force the recovery efforts to move forward.
At Bold Visions Conservation, we believe that this commission must be eliminated. There is not one viable person on the commission; they remain a political front for livestock, oil and gas and the pathetic 3.5% of New Mexicans that still hunt.
Long-term, funding for this agency must be diversified, as it currently comes exclusively from the sale of guns, ammo and hunting tags. If sportsmen are willing to have a 10% surcharge attached to all guns and ammo, why can’t we, as conservationists, do the same with tents, camping stoves, binoculars and sleeping bags?
96.5% of people in this state are not hunters; we use our public lands to recreate. Many of us come to those lands just to view wildlife; ours is the voice of wildlife management.
As the meeting entered its fifth hour, we were hearing of support for the increased limits from the likes of the New Mexico Trappers Association. Their leader, whose face seemed defined not by life, but rather embalming fluid, talked of their support of taking more bears and the joy of trapping cougar. The commission seemed happy and interested in his every word.
Then it was our chance to ask for life, to give animals a chance in the wild, to allow the voice of the clear majority to prevail in this supposedly-democratic meeting. Looking at the faces of the commission, one could see that they viewed us with both contempt and confusion. They have lived an insular existence; they hunt, trap, kill and are treated like royalty by those ranchers that seek lucrative hunting tags for their ranches, and new ways to profit from the wildlife that simply seeks to coexist.
After more than thirty minutes of impassioned pleas, the commission quickly voted to allow more bears to die, to allow cougars to suffer and made it clear that our voices were simply meaningless.
Then perhaps to their surprise, the crowd stood and began to shout “shame on you!” and some cried out “god have mercy on your soul.” Game and Fish Department officers quickly moved in, and the commissioners sat in stunned silence; perhaps understanding that for this group of people, for those of us that call New Mexico home, the time has come to clean up this mess created by our Governor, Susana Martinez. This commission must be formally removed and if it is to be replaced, it must be with wildlife scientists, conservationists and people who cherish life, not seek to exterminate it.
One thing is for sure: this fight has just begun.
Please help Bold Visions Conservation in the days and weeks ahead, we continue to make our film to educate the public about the Game and Fish Commission! We need your support!
Today we feature With Harley Shaw, a 27-year veteran mountain lion specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Click below to enjoy ‘A Minute with Harley,” whose commentary will be featured in our new documentary.
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