The 60-day New Mexico Legislature has concluded for 2015. Last November, a majority of Republicans were elected to the state House of Representatives, which turned the leadership of the House over to the Republican Party for the first time in 60 years. The consequences were not good for wildlife.
Every single bill on the subject of wildlife had to go through the House Agriculture committee, which became the House Agriculture/Water/Wildlife committee when the newly elected leadership reorganized and shuffled the committee structure. Placing wildlife issues under the control of agriculture interests was not unlike placing hens under the control of foxes. It insured that wildlife would get the short end of the stick.
The bill to end coyote killing contests, a practice where people compete to rack up a high body count of coyotes to win cash and prizes (and sometimes to kill the largest adult coyote or smallest coyote puppy) started in the Senate sponsored by Republican Mark Moores. It sailed through the Senate passing its two committees and the Senate floor handily by a vote of 27-13. It truly had bi-partisan support and was co-sponsored by Democratic Representative Jeff Steinborn in the House. But it could not pass the House Agriculture/Water/Wildlife committee where the reverse happened and only two members, Rep. Bill McCamley and Rep. Bobby Gonzales, both Democrats voted against killing it.
The hearing for the bill to end the use of traps and poisons on public land sponsored by Rep. Bobby Gonzales was also killed on the same day by this committee with the same 8-2 vote. The hearing room was packed with citizens whose dogs have been trapped, hikers, hunters, teachers, veterinarians and wildlife enthusiasts all supporting the bill. But the chair of the committee, Rep. Candy Ezzell, a rancher from Roswell, chose this hearing day to wear what appeared to be coyote fur boots just in case the anti-carnivore message wasn’t clear enough.
The House Agriculture/Water/Wildlife Committee also approved the bill to remove all protections from mountain lions, which would have allowed them to be shot and trapped in any number at any time. It is currently not legal to set traps for the sport killing of mountain lions and there are quotas and a bag limit imposed by NM Game and Fish (although arguably they are too high). In an about face illustrating how out of step the Agriculture Committee is, the bill was killed in the next committee, House Regulatory and Public Affairs, with a unanimous vote from members of both parties.
House Memorial 117, a measure that was assigned only to the House Agriculture/Water/Wildlife Committee before heading to the House floor, asked the governor to “denounce” Mexican wolf recovery and to demand the US Dept. of Interior turn wolf management over to the state. When its sponsor, Rep. Andy Nunez (R) also a member of the House Agriculture/Water/Wildlife committee was asked by Rep. Bill McCamley (D) a fellow committee member, how many wolves he thought would be a good number for New Mexico, Rep. Nunez replied “zero.” Clearly this memorial was about facilitating the extermination of our wolves and the desire of agriculture interests to do just that. HM 117 was in the queue to be heard on the House Floor when the session ended so it never reached a final vote.
The House Agriculture/Water/Wildlife committee showed itself over and over to be extreme and at odds with most New Mexicans by how its majority voted on wildlife issues compared to how other committees voted. The wishes of an extreme special interest should not be held higher than those of all others. Elections have consequences and even though there are wildlife champions in the Republican Party, turning over the leadership effectively muzzled them and all wildlife supporters.