Court Affirms Game Commission's Cougar Regulations

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Regulations allowing year round cougar hunting by private landowners or their employees, and a two-cougar bag limit in southern bighorn sheep country were upheld in district court on Dec. 6, 2002. In response to a Writ of Certiorari filed by Animal Protection of New Mexico Inc. (APNM), the court ruled that the State Game Commission acted appropriately and within its jurisdiction during the regulation process for setting cougar season dates and bag limits.

"The Honorable Judge James A. Hall affirmed the Commission's decision-making process," said Dan Brooks, chief of Law Enforcement for the Department. "He found no impropriety in the Commission's actions, when passing wildlife regulations or rules for cougar. Even though APNM had implied that the Commission acted arbitrarily or capriciously, this was not the case."

APNM filed the writ in an effort to have the court reverse the Commission's decisions on the 2002-2003 cougar hunting season. It asserted the Commission did not consider the cougar's distribution, abundance and impacts that private land and additional hunting in bighorn sheep ranges would have on cougars. The Department has recently documented more than 64 bighorn sheep killed by cougars in New Mexico.

In its response, the Commission said that cougar population density estimates were incorporated into a cougar population model based on 10 years of research, extensive habitat analysis and predicted cougar harvest and management effects. The Commission must balance cougar populations with other mandates and concerns, including the severe impact of cougars on endangered desert bighorn sheep and declining deer populations, private land depredation, economic issues and cougar hunting availability.

"The Commission decisions concerning cougar hunting in New Mexico must balance economic and recreational interests of sportsmen, outfitters and landowners with the ecological conditions affecting cougars and their prey species like deer and bighorn sheep," said Larry Bell, director of the Department of Game and Fish. "The judge's ruling re-emphasizes that this balancing act by the State Game Commission is taking place during open meetings, using the proper information and form."