New Mexico Senate passes wildlife bill

Mar 20, 2009
by DTN
New Mexico Senate passes wildlife bill

Legislation aimed at stopping the slaughter of wildlife that are munching on crops has passed the state Senate and now goes to the House. Under the bill, ranchers and farmers could no longer kill wildlife on private land unless the animals were predators threatening people, pets or livestock.

Landowners for the first time could seek compensation for their crop losses if they asked the Department of Game and Fish for help but the intervention was not effective.

There was an outcry when a Cimarron, NM-area rancher last year killed or wounded more than three dozen pronghorn antelope with a shotgun because they had been eating his winter wheat fields.

“There’s just no excuse for what happened in northern New Mexico awhile back,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, the sponsor of the bill. Gov. Bill Richardson is among those pressing for the change, saying such incidents are wasteful and give New Mexico a bad name. The legislation, which would take effect in 2010, went Sunday, March 15, to the House on a vote of 31- 10. The depredation issue has generated controversy since the provision allowing the killings was enacted a dozen years ago at the urging of Democratic Sen. Tim Jennings, a Roswell, NM, sheep rancher who is now president pro tem of the Senate.

Jennings is a longtime critic of the Department of Game and Fish, which he says has not properly managed the state’s wildlife.

Jennings tried without success that Sunday to get the bill amended to give the department two years to come up with a plan to compensate private landowners for damage done by wildlife on privately owned, uncultivated grazing lands.

He contended it was an issue of state-owned wildlife effectively taking private property without compensation to ranchers.

Opponents of Jennings’ amendment said with 34 million acres of private land in the state, and no way to know how much grass was eaten by livestock and how much by wildlife, the proposal was unworkable.

Under the legislation, the money for compensation would come from a portion of the fees for big-game hunting that go into a depredation fund. The fee for the so-called depredation damage stamp would increase in 2010 from $5 to $6 for residents, and $10 to $20 for nonresidents. — DTN