The State Game Commission met Sept. 18 in Cloudcroft, and although no final decisions were made, the Commission showed its intention to approve major changes to bear, cougar and trapping rules in November -- including revising bear seasons in southern New Mexico that some hunters said could create problems in the future.
As it has in its previous meetings, the new Commission started with a report from NMDGF staff about their work. In Cloudcroft, the Fisheries Division reported on its hatcheries and other programs around the state. Plans are already in place to upgrade infrastructure at several hatcheries with new buildings, facilities, water systems and the like. Overall our hatcheries are healthy and are producing the kinds and size of fish that make angling enjoyable across the state.
The Commission has also established a new procedure for public comment, allowing the public to comment early in the meeting or at the end, though not at both. During the first general comment period several ranchers voiced complaints about the lack of tags and lack of compensation for improvements they provide for wildlife. There were also complaints about the Endangered Species Act and the possibility of opening up stream access in New Mexico.
An E-tag update was also on the agenda. The app works for iPhone or Android devices and some 8,000 people have elected to use an e-tag this year. Department staff are optimistic about the growth of the tool, even though hunters still have to put a homemade physical tag on the carcass and file a harvest report separately.
The Bear and Cougar Rule was a big-ticket item at the Cloudcroft meeting, though final approval is not expected until the November meeting in Roswell. Several trappers and ranchers spoke against the proposal to no longer allow cougar trapping on private property with a sport license, saying that authority is needed to keep cougar numbers in check. In response to Commissioners’ questions, NMDGF’s Stewart Liley pointed out that any landowner who is having depredation problems with cougars can ask NMDGF to remove problem lions. The Commission then voted 4-3 to leave the “sport trapping” recommendation in the rule as proposed, meaning that in November they will vote on a version of the rule that bans trapping of cougars for sport harvest on private lands.
Several hunters spoke against a provision in the new bear rule that would eliminate the Aug. 16-31 hunt dates in southern New Mexico (Zones 10, 12 and 13) but tack two to four weeks onto the end of the season. Liley said the proposed change had been requested by hunters who wanted the bear season to remain open longer in the fall – it often closes early in those zones because of August hunting. But at the Cloudcroft meeting, several other hunters objected to the change, saying it could put more bear hunters’ dogs in the field during rifle seasons for elk. Hunting bears with dogs is already allowed in rifle seasons statewide. The Commission considered but did not change the proposed season changes. The public can still comment on the Bear and Cougar Rule (see below.) A final vote is expected in November in Roswell.
Separately, the Department has proposed numerous changes in the Trapping and Furbearer Rule, mostly having to do with the types, sizes, and designs of traps. A major point of contention for trappers is a new requirement to set traps outside a half- mile radius from any designated trailhead, picnic area, established and maintained public campgrounds and boat launching areas, and roadside rest areas. The current rule is a 1/4 mile. The trapping proposals were not modified and will be up for a vote at the January meeting in Las Cruces their current form.
For more on any of the proposals or to comment, click here.