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The Doña Ana County Commission has had quite the saga regarding wildlife recently.
After the nearunanimous passage of Resolution 2019-34 – which affirmed that county funds could not be spent on lethal predator and rodent control – the commission repealed the resolution only two months later.
Amid all the confusion and back-and-forth, it’s important to clarify what is actually going on, because the final chapter is yet to come. Many constituents in the county do not want public funds used for what we see as the ineffective, unscientific, inhumane, and indiscriminate killing of native wildlife. Poison bombs and leghold traps are cruel and archaic ways to deal with wildlife conflict. There is little evidence that they are effective, long-term tools for resolving conflict. In fact, there is evidence that indiscriminate killing actually disrupts wildlife social patterns and can lead to more nuisance and damage.
Moreover, traps and poisons scattered across our landscape pose a serious threat to people, dogs, and non-target animals. From 2010-2017, Wildlife Services M-44 sodium
cyanide bombs killed at least 338 non-target animals in New Mexico. There is a litany of trapping incidents involving dogs in the county. M-44s are under serious scrutiny across the west. Oregon is the most recent state to have a serious look at the killing devices and banned their use through legislation.
On the other side of the issue are ranching interests that claim to rely on Wildlife Services to “control” what they deem to be nuisance animals and predators – mostly native species key to our desert ecosystems. Wildlife Services is taxpayer funded and responds for free to requests, mostly by ranchers, who are having wildlife conflicts.
It’s normal and expected for our elected officials to balance differing perspectives like those outlined above. What is unusual and should concern Doña Ana County residents is that our commissioners seem very concerned about serving the interests of Wildlife Services, the infamous wildlife killing agency. As soon as Resolution 2019-34 passed, it was Wildlife Services who led the backlash. Employees of the federal agency said to our commissioners, “step back, we’ll determine what is for your constituents and your budget.” It reminds me of the old saying, “I’m from the government, trust me.”
This is rich coming from an agency that has a long history of horrible mistakes including the deaths of numerous pets, the temporary-blinding of an Idaho boy, and wellfounded accusations of animal torture. Additionally, there is serious doubt that the lethal methods that Wildlife Services relies on are at all useful. An agency employee recently said, “People say lethal doesn’t work – if lethal didn’t work, you didn’t kill enough of ’em. It’s just as simple as that.” Really?
Wildlife Services has a role to play in helping the residents of Doña Ana County proactively and ethically manage humanwildlife conflicts. There are any number of better ways to do this than littering our landscape with traps and poisons. Wildlife Services is positioned to pivot to methods that are effective and meet the approval of our county’s residents. Along with the promise to emphasize non-lethal tools, Wildlife Services needs to incorporate concrete measures of accountability and transparency into any contract that the county signs.
Our county commissioners should be balancing the needs of public-land recreators, pets, kids, and native wildlife with those ranchers who claim to need indiscriminate killing. Modern non-lethal tools are available to ranchers should they so choose. The commission should not acquiesce to an opaque, unaccountable, and secretive federal agency as a majority of its constituents push for coexistence. Nathan P. Cote of Las Cruces is a former state representative and is a board member of NM Voices for Children: Nathancote46@gmail.com.