Commentary: Doña Ana County Commission's renewal of the U.S. Wildlife Services contract has been a case history in listening.
Each year we pay the agency to “deal” with “nuisance” wild animals: coyotes eating calves, skunks in your garage, rattlesnakes. No one pays much attention.
This year folks, including Southwest Environmental Center, sensibly said, “Wait a minute!” And started asking questions. Wanton coyote-killing ain't cool.
So the County passed a resolution getting us out of the coyote-killing business, requiring certain funds go only to non-lethal methods. This resolution sparked a storm of protest from ranchers and Wildlife Services, who made some good points about what's actually happening on the ground. They say the killing isn't wanton or extensive.
Mike Graves from Wildlife Services said the bulk of his work under the county contract mostly involves non-ranching citizens encountering problematic animals other than coyotes. The program kills relatively few coyotes. (73 last year.) Graves and the ranchers said they weren't out to eradicate coyotes. Ranchers call on Graves rarely, mostly during calving season. Their problem is the occasional coyote that preys on calves, not all coyotes. They said they care about the balance of nature, and recognize that coyotes are an essential part of our local ecology, such that eradicating coyotes would cause even more problems. They also loathe coyote-killing contests. Rancher Steve Wilmeth recounted finding a bunch of carcasses someone hung on his fence, and knowing passersby would “think that rancher did that.” But that rancher hadn't and wouldn't.
Graves's key point is that “nuisance animals” will be dealt with – if not by Wildlife Services, then by amateurs with far less experience and skill, in far less humane ways.
At Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District's request, the Commission reconsidered the resolution, and discussed at its last meeting a new resolution that imposes reporting requirements but removes most limitations.
Some citizens advocated the original resolution, others opposed it. Commission Chair Lynn Ellins will discuss with Wildlife Services M-44 poisoning and leg-traps. (People disagree on how inhumane these are and whether or not hikers' dogs are endangered.)
I hope Ellins will get more stringent reporting requirements and revive certain rules, even if they require things Graves already does, such as warning signs and an electronic device to alert him when a trap has been sprung. We've improved the situation some, and can review it next year. I'm particularly interested in the process.
Good for SWEC, which raised the questions. Good for DASWCD, which made some good practical points in seeking reconsideration. Good for the Commission, for listening to everyone. We should be able to sharpen our focus to accomplish the goal without collateral damage.
As for us “general public,” there was too much demonizing of each other. Some folks attacked SWEC's Kevin Bixby, while others assumed the “coyote-killers” must be liars. I never think attacking people helps a whole lot, which may be my advanced age showing.
We have a diverse community. Vegan friends point out that raising herds of cattle is a massive ecological evil, and that it takes vast amounts of water to get beef to your table.
Ranchers point out that some of what they do actually helps wildlife, and that the disappearance of their way of life would be sad for all of us.
Meanwhile, with the contract lapsed, some old guy with a skunk in his garage is probably giving Graves hell for not helping him.
[NOTE: The County Commission meeting will be at 9 a.m. Tuesday, 9 July -- just two days away!]