Predator-killing contests and killing Yellowstone wolves have become an embarrassment to self-styled “ethical” hunters who promote their North American Model of wildlife conservation. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported a “Record number of Mexican wolves found dead in 2018,” one notoriously dying at the hands of rancher Craig Thiessen. The Federal government, which otherwise has not been protecting wolves,at least managed to revoke Thiessen’s permit to run cows on public land.
State game departments estimate that hunters make up less than 5% of the population, though their figures probably reflect their bias that they need funding to offset declining revenue from license sales. In New Mexico and around the country, hunter-conservationists are promoting a tax on the non-hunting majority to bail out game departments. But even reliable scientific studies show that only about 10% of the public hunts,including those who don’t need a hunting license or don’t bother to purchase one.
Senators Heinrich and Udall both voted to confirm the departing Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior, as part of their campaign to make wilderness areas like the Sabinoso more accessible to hunters. In a December 16 interview with the New Mexican, Udall recalls Zinke as “pledging to lead the Interior Department in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt.” Zinke exposed the true nature of Teddy Roosevelt model of hunter conservation. Well-known for big-game hunting, Roosevelt described his wolf-hunting experiences in his book Hunting the Grisly and Other Sketches.
The dire situation of Mexican wolves did not start with Zinke, and will not improve when he leaves .Zinke’s predecessor as Interior Secretary, Dan Ashe, was more concerned about maintaining wolf populations in zoos than in the wild, and he now serves as director of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The cross-fostering program started by Ashe,and continuing under Zinke, may provide better specimens for zoos,but it does little for a wild wolf population. For genetic diversity Mexican wolves require a continuous corridor through to Colorado.
Zinke’s successor, David Bernhardt, who calls himself “an avid hunter and angler,”served on the Virginia Board of Game. Like many of the outgoing New Mexico Game Commissioners, Bernhardt represents the oil industry as well as the hunting industry.
The United Nations Climate Conference estimates that the world has six to twelve years to seriously address climate change, which affects wildlife as well as humans. The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report estimates that vertebrate populations have declined by 60% over the last 50 years. The Trump Administration will only make matters worse, now that the Republican victory in the midterms will all but guarantee confirmation of Trump’s executive and judicial appointments.
Governor-Elect Lujan-Grisham and the incoming New Mexico legislature have the opportunity to change state wildlife policy. Lujan-Grisham can appoint Game Commissioners who are not beholden to hunting, trapping, livestock, and oil interests. The legislature can outlaw coyote-killing contests, as well as providing protection for coyotes and other species not currently regulated by state law.
The limited resources of the game department should be spent on species protection and law enforcement, not on encouraging more people to take up hunting. If this is beyond their resources and expertise, the Game Department, as well as the Game Commission should be abolished, transferring the necessary functions to professional departments. The Department of Public Safety can provide proper training and equipment for officers entrusted with enforcing laws against poaching. Under the new state administration, the Energy and Natural Resources Department can focus on protecting wildlife and habitat, as well as making a transition to renewable energy.