As the June meeting of the New Mexico Game Commission approaches, the so-called wildlife biologists of Game and Fish have modified their proposal on cougar trapping. Facing widespread opposition from editorials and letters in the Santa Fe New Mexican and Albuquerque Journal, culminating in a rally at the state capitol, they dropped their proposal to set cougar traps on public land. The new proposal would allow unrestricted cougar trapping on private land, while increasing other forms of cougar hunting on public land.
The career game managers who fancy themselves “biologists,” continue to serve the interests of ranchers and trappers, while ignoring the need to protect wildlife populations. The department’s original proposal had nothing to do with biology or any other science, as it was dropped in the face of public opposition. The current proposal is hardly better. And they continue to kill cougars while the proposal is up for discussion. Last week they killed a cougar in a Raton neighborhood for allegedly attacking a puppy, and they continue to set out cougar traps in Los Alamos.
Nothing has changed in the year since Scott Bidegain was forced to resign his position as Game Commission Chair after promoting an illegal cougar hunt. As a member of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association Board of Directors, Bidegain personified the close connection between the livestock industry and the Game Commission.
For that matter, nothing has changed since the Game Commission was first set up in 1921, about the time President Warren Harding appointed NM rancher and former US Senator Albert Fall as Secretary of the Interior. Fall made a career out of opening up public lands to the oil industry in the notorious Teapot Dome Scandal.
With the support of hunting and livestock interests, New Mexico established a Game Commission to maintain populations of huntable wildlife in accord with the principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has aptly summed up the model as follows:
Man has hunted since he walked the Earth. Every early culture relied on hunting for survival. Through hunting, man forged a connection with the land and learned quickly that stewardship of the land went hand-in-hand with maintaining wildlife – and their own way of life.
In the first half of the 20th century, leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold shaped a set of ideals that came to be known as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. They articulated the philosophy that all wildlife belong to all of us.
It is useless in any case to look to science to set public policy. In a Wildlife Society article titled An Inadequate Construct, Dr. Michael P. Nelson challenges the tenet of the North American Model which “asserts that Science is the Proper Tool for Discharge of Wildlife Policy.” Nelson states: “This is mistaken for equating a desire for policies informed by science with science discharging or determining, by itself, what policies ought to be adopted—a serious, but very common, error in ethical reasoning. Scientific facts about nature cannot, by themselves, determine how we ought to relate to nature or which policies are most appropriate.”
By making a career out of serving their political masters, New Mexico’s professional game managers have combined the world’s two oldest professions. To borrow a term popularized by Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson, the game managers are aptly described as biostitutes.
The current drought, exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change, is likely to continue for decades, threatening wildlife habitat. All wildlife is threatened, including species not officially recognized as endangered. It is time for the State of New Mexico to repeal outdated laws which view predators as threats to livestock. It is time to abolish the Game Commission.