Commentary: Today the Doña Ana County commission completed its capitulation to a federal agency over how conflicts with wildlife should be resolved.
Today’s action culminated a reversal of position that began in April, when the commission voted to ban the use of certain county funds for lethal control of predators and rodents. Under pressure from Wildlife Services--a USDA agency that killed 1.5 million native animals nationwide last year--and its allies, the Commission reversed itself in July, when it approved a contract with Wildlife Services that permitted lethal control methods but added a modest requirement that the agency try nonlethal methods of resolving problems at least twice before resorting to killing the target animal, unless there was an imminent threat to human safety or health.
Apparently even this modest restriction was too much for Wildlife Services, which refused to sign the contract and threatened to withhold matching federal funding from the county. Today under pressure from the agency and its supporters, the commission approved yet another version of the contract, this one containing an amendment that added exceptions intended to make the requirement to use nonlethal methods meaningless.
The contract now reads that Wildlife Services must attempt to resolve human-wildlife conflicts non-lethally, “unless the animal poses an imminent threat to human health or safety, property, livestock, companion animals and confirmed depredations.” The amendment passed 3:2 with Commissioner Reynolds and Commission Sanchez opposing.
“This amendment gives Wildlife Services agents the go-ahead to do what they’ve always done: kill animals under any circumstances using any method they want because it’s convenient, easy, and cheap,” said Amanda Munro, Communications Director for the Southwest Environmental Center. “Today’s decision raises serious questions about the state of our democracy in New Mexico. This issue has been voted on three separate times because Wildlife Services would not rest until the status quo was re-established. We’re extremely disappointed that our county commissioners buckled under the pressure, ignored their constituents’ concerns, and sold out our wildlife.”
“It’s bad for wildlife, it’s bad for public safety, and in the long-term, it’s probably bad for those who rely on Wildlife Services,” said Chris Smith, southern Rockies wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Lethal control--except in cases of imminent harm to public safety--is a bandaid, not a real solution to what is an ongoing issue.”
The actions of commission chair Lynn Ellins throughout this process are particularly disappointing and inexplicable. It was Ellins who introduced the April resolution that prohibited lethal predator and rodent control, but he led every subsequent effort by the Commission to walk it back. In his closing remarks today, he made it clear that coexistence with wildlife was not his priority.
The new contract with Wildlife Services continues to allow the agency to use leghold traps, sodium cyanide bombs, poisons, aerial gunning and other lethal means in response to complaints by ranchers and other county residents.