In a clash between urban and rural lawmakers, the New Mexico Senate voted 22-17 on Wednesday to outlaw coyote-killing contests that are staged for prizes or entertainment.
The proposal, Senate Bill 76, now advances to the House of Representatives. Similar bills have twice cleared the Senate in the last four years but died in the House.
Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said he had a simple reason for co-sponsoring the latest attempt to end the contests targeting coyotes.
“I don’t want to live in a culture of wanton killing,” Moores said.
He told of a coyote-killing contest in which “yahoos” paraded a trailer-load of carcasses through busy neighborhoods, celebrating their slaughter.
His co-sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces, said the killing contests are disavowed by ethical hunters and criticized as counterproductive by wildlife biologists.
Coyotes are effective in checking rodent populations. But nature’s order is disrupted when coyotes are targeted for mass killings in “a fringe sport,” Steinborn said.
Rural Republicans, led by Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell, proposed six separate amendments in hopes of weakening the bill. All of them failed.
Pirtle wanted to alter the bill to give all 33 counties the option of barring coyote-killing contests.
Sen. Gregory Baca, R-Belen, tried to eliminate all the bill’s references to “killing” and change them to “hunting.” This would make it “more civil,” Baca said.
Steinborn said he would not allow the problem of thrill killing to be sanitized.
Moores also objected, saying the Legislature 12 years ago outlawed cockfighting. Calling it rooster wrestling would have made it no more acceptable, Moores said.
But Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, said the term “killing contests” had inflamed urban residents. He and other rural senators refer to organized hunts of coyotes as “calling contests” that are staged to protect livestock.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said coyotes also are a danger in urban or suburban areas. He said his 6-year-old granddaughter twice lost dogs to coyotes, and the pets were in fenced yards.
Smith questioned Steinborn on the precise number of coyote-killing contests in several rural counties. Steinborn said he didn’t have readily available statistics about all the known killing contests in those areas.
“You’re not sure what’s going on with coyotes in the state of New Mexico,” Smith shot back.
Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, voted against the bill on the basis of county control.
“I don’t participate in these [contests],” Muñoz said. “I don’t really think they’re good.”
But, he said, he resented the larger cities of Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces trying to dictate policy to rural New Mexico.
“When we have a problem, we control them,” Muñoz said of coyotes. “When we don’t, we leave them alone.”
Even if the bill becomes law, coyotes would be mostly unprotected. Residents and ranchers could still kill all the coyotes they want and in any season, provided they didn’t violate the bill’s main provisions.
The only way they would run afoul of the law would be if they organized or participated in a coyote-killing contest that offered prizes or was staged for its entertainment value to the participants. The bill makes organizing a killing contest a misdemeanor and participating in a contest a petty misdemeanor.
Previous versions of the bill to outlaw coyote-killing contests failed in the House of Representatives in 2015, when Republicans were in charge, and 2017, when Democrats were the majority party.
This year, Democrats hold a 46-24 advantage in the House, their largest majority in two decades. That might be enough to approve the bill and send it to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her consideration.