Calling animal killing contests "brutal, barbaric and inhumane," new State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard banned the practice on state trust land Thursday.
She made the prohibition by executive order, signed at a news conference.
"If you want to hold a contest to see who can accumulate the most coyote carcasses … from today forward, you will not be able to do that on state trust land," Garcia Richard, who took office Jan. 1, said to a small group of staff and advocates.
Her office oversees more than 9 million surface acres of state trust land. Much of it is checkerboarded among private property and other government agencies, which will likely present a challenge for enforcing the ban. Garcia Richard said the office's legal team can file action against those who violate the ban. She told reporters she's also considered implementing a fee structure for hunters who are caught participating in the contests. Any new criminal penalities would likely have to be adopted by the state Legislature.
The ban impacts "unregulated" species like coyotes, and does not impact animals which hunters need a permit to pursue. Those hunters fall under the purview of the state Department of Game and Fish and its officers.
Animal advocates with Animal Protection Voters, Project Coyote, WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club and others applauded the order. Many members stood behind the land commissioner as she made the announcement.
"She knows that healthy ecosystems and sustainable land use rely on robust interconnected wildlife populations," said Jessica Johnson of Animal Protection Voters.
"This is not to say that NMSLO does not support hunters; hunters who hunt ethically, hunters who use practices that follow the law and include fair chase, hunters who use what they kill," Garcia Richard said during the news conference. "This is not to say that our 3,000 agricultural lessees are going to be dissuaded from humanely combating depredation on their land to livestock and other companion animals. That's not what today is about."
Tiger Espinoza, vice president of the New Mexico chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, tells SFR the group has purposely avoided taking a stance on political issues like the contests.
"We don't either support or not support this ban," he says over the phone from Farmington. "I will say that Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife 100 percent supports predator control. And if that involves killing a few coyotes, then that's what it involves."
The lifelong hunter says there are "thousands upon thousands" of coyotes in the state and that sometimes the public misunderstands their place in the food chain. "People think that they are not little baby deer, fawn killers. In all reality they are. I have seen that with my own eyes. It's not just mountain lions. I've seen coyotes take down a buck deer with my own eyes."
Opponents of the contest agree with people like Espinoza, who says the events don't put a dent in coyote populations.
"There is no documented scientific evidence that coyote killing contests permanently reduce coyote abundance, increase populations of deer or other game species, or prevent conflicts between predators, humans and livestock," Dave Parsons of Project Coyote said in a statement Thursday.
The anti-contest group plans to hold screenings of "Killing Games: Wildlife in the Crosshairs" tonight in Las Cruces and Saturday afternoon at the South Broadway Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Both shows have panel discussions planned after the film.
The order isn't the first such ban on state trust lands. Former commissioners Ray Powell and Jim Baca also implemented such a prohibition during their terms.