By John Larson
The New Mexico Game Commission has proposed to increase the number of bears and cougars allowed to be hunted and killed next year.
The Game and Fish Department believes higher hunting limits would address depredation and safety issues in many areas, while still leaving the state with sustainable populations, according to a department press release.
Ken Cason, a Magdalena-based outfitter and hunter, said raising the limit would do nothing but improve the balance in the populations of deer and elk.
“Right now predators are taking the heck out of the fawn crops,” he said. “Coyotes are taking the young ones, and that means the deer population is already decreased. Lions have to eat four deer a week, and if she’s got a kitten with her then she’ll kill more than that through training the kitten how to kill.”
If the proposal is approved, the hunt limit for bears would increase from 406 to 686, and the number of cougars allowed to be hunted would jump from 490 to 996, according to a study by the commission.
“The bad thing about it is that a cougar won’t really take a fawn,” said Cason. “They like the bigger stuff. Coyotes will take the antelope fawn right and left, and also the deer, and sometimes the elk calves.”
Magdalena Marshal Larry Cearley said that the reason for the proposal is to increase the deer herds. “When hunters get more of the lions and bears, it makes for more deer and more elk out there,” he said.
The numbers seem extreme but they’re really not, said Cearley. Some of the landowners in Hop Canyon have deer herds on their property to protect them from hunters but that practice could actually attract cougars to their properties as well, he said. “There needs to be the right quota to balance it up,” he said.
Cason said he believes bears and cougars are not the problem. “It’s already bear territory,” he said. “People are coming to them.”
Cason also said the bear sightings on properties in Paterson Canyon were not surprising.
“Bears coming up to a little house up in Paterson Canyon are looking for food, it works like that in drought years,” he said. “To a bear, dog food is better than berries. That’s what it amounts to.”
The Game and Fish Department estimates that there are as many as 4,300 cougars and between 5,300 and 6,500 black bears currently living in New Mexico.
Said Cason: “Not counting the poor soul that thinks he can have a private place up the mountains and lose all his dogs and cats, Mother Nature’s a cruel old bitch.”