Drought doesn’t only impact the availability of food and water for people and, as dry conditions continue to grip the state even amid the start of monsoon season, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has urged residents to be “bear aware.”
Bear-human encounters tend to increase in drought times as wildlife moves into suburbs or even cities in search of resources.
In a press release issued earlier this month, Rick Winslow, a bear and cougar biologist with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said that droughts have historically led to more conflicts with bears “not only at camping and picnic sites, but also in more populated areas.”
Nick Forman is the carnivore and small mammal program manager for the department. He spoke with NM Political Report via phone about this topic. Bears, he said, are omnivorous and rely on food sources like acorns, currant berries and juniper berries. Last fall, he said, the state had decent production of these food sources and, currently, the juniper bushes have berries on them and wildflowers can also provide bears with food. “There’s definitely available food out there,” he said.
When a moose wandered into New Mexico in September, someone shot it near Bloomfield and left it to die. Ultimately, an officer from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish had to kill the bull as it was unable to be saved. Poaching is not uncommon in New Mexico and this can not only impact wildlife populations but also is considered a form of theft.
Illegally killing wildlife takes away from all New Mexicans, including responsible hunters and anglers, according to department spokeswoman Tristanna Bickford. “There’s also an impact for people who just enjoy seeing wildlife, whether you’re taking a drive through the calderas and see a herd of elk or, you know here on Santa Fe, we have quite a few animals that you can see right on the fringes of town,” she said. “And also it really takes away from people that just enjoy seeing or photographing wildlife, as well as for hunters and anglers.”
The extent to which poaching financially impacts the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is not completely known, but Bickford said a significant amount of staff time is devoted to investigating poaching incidents.
As Congress considers a bill that would fund wildlife conservation efforts nationwide, panelists told the state Legislature’s interim Water and Natural Resources Committee in Taos that more funding is needed to support those efforts, but disagreed on efforts to reform the way wildlife is managed in New Mexico. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act was introduced earlier this year by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, and, if it becomes law, New Mexico could receive $27 million to implement projects that will help species on the State Wildlife Action Plan. However, this would require an approximately $9 million match of funds from the state. Related: Heinrich, Blunt introduce legislation to fund wildlife conservation
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish relies on the sale of fishing and hunting licenses and stamps, as well as federal excise tax, for the majority of its funding and does not receive any money from the state’s general fund, Tristanna Bickford, a spokesperson for the department, told NM Political Report in an email prior to the committee hearing. She said there is additional funding through the federal Sikes Act, which provides for managing fish and wildlife on military lands.
While various environmental advocacy groups are pushing for river otter reintroduction in the Gila River basin of New Mexico, biologists say this could impact several sensitive fish species that the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has been working to protect and recover. These fish once coexisted with the river otters in a natural ecosystem and Michael Robinson with Center for Biological Diversity said they could live together once again. But one of the questions that the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish must grapple with is whether the ecosystem as it is today can support both the sensitive species of fish and the otter. Tristanna Buickford, a spokesperson for the department, said there is not a timeline in place for the river otter reintroduction effort and the department is currently exploring the possibility. She said more studies will need to be done.
As the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish works to update its fisheries rule, a remote stream in the Gila wilderness could be opened for angling. Fishing has not been allowed in McKenna Creek in Catron County in an effort to protect a small Gila trout population. For decades, this population was believed to be one of the few remaining pure Gila trout populations. But now biologists say the trout found in McKenna Creek have hybridized with rainbow trout.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is updating its fisheries rule, which expires on March 31, 2022. The updated rule will likely remove the prohibition on angling in McKenna Creek as it is no longer needed to protect the Gila trout.
Beaver once swam in Big Bear Creek in the Lincoln National Forest and built their dams in the area, which improved the ecosystem. But the semi-aquatic rodents have since abandoned that part of their range amid habitat loss. “We’ve lost a lot of the riparian vegetation, the biomass and species diversification within this area,” said Larry Cordova, a biologist with the Lincoln National Forest. Now the U.S Forest Service is asking for $20,000 of funding from the Habitat Stamp Program to improve the riparian area ecosystem, including building fake beaver dams that play the function the beavers once played in the creek system. This is one of two dozen proposals presented to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Habitat Stamp Program Citizen Advisory Committee this week by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
A renewed effort to ban trapping on public land in New Mexico moved through the House of Representatives by a close vote of 35-34 and is now on its way to the governor’s desk for a signature. In addition to outlawing the use of traps, Senate Bill 32 would prohibit the use of snares and wildlife poison on public land. The proposal would establish misdemeanor penalties for violations of the anti-trapping measure. It contains exceptions, including all other types of hunting; ecosystem management; cage traps to protect property, crops or livestock; and religious and ceremonial purposes by enrolled members of a federally recognized Indian nation, tribe or pueblo. Trapping on private and tribal land would still be allowed.
The rainbow trout has taken over much of the waterways of the West. Considered an angler’s favorite, the fish species is stocked frequently in waters across New Mexico and other western states to draw recreational fishers and the money the license fees generate. But the rainbow trout is bad news for many of the native populations of cutthroat trout across the western U.S. — including here in New Mexico, where the state and tribes are working to protect the Rio Grande cutthroat, an endangered subspecies of cutthroat trout found in Northern New Mexico. The rainbow trout tend to mate with the native cutthroats, creating a hybrid “cutbow” fish and removing some of the genetic diversity of the native cutthroat populations.
“[New Mexico Department of] Game and Fish is between a rock and a hard place with rainbow trout,” said Doug Eib, a former employee of NMDGF and of the Surface Water Quality Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department. “They depend on license sales to fund their activities, and people want to catch rainbow trout.
It can be scary to drive at night in rural New Mexico. There aren’t lights to see who might be on the side of the road, ready to race or saunter across. While we’re zooming along a ribbon of highway at 75 or 80 miles per hour—sometimes in a line of cars, sometimes all alone out on the highway—often, there are owls hunting, foxes looking for mice in the grassy median, coyotes bringing food home to the den, or elk on their way to water or higher ground. Even during the day, pronghorn or deer might dart across the road. When a car collides with an animal, it’s bad news for everyone.
I stood motionless, afraid to even blink let alone breathe. His bulbous eye focused on the off-colored rock sitting before him. His 220-pound frame was sleek and well-defined but nothing compared to what it would be in a few months when he bulked up to begin defending his right to breed. The Rocky Mountain bighorn ram standing before me was already a fine specimen, he was soon going to be a fierce competitor as well. Imagining the thunderous clap resounding from his mighty horns as he beat down his rivals, I had little doubt he would maintain his bloodline this coming breeding season.