Doña Ana County Commission votes Tuesday to use exclusively non-lethal methods of rodent and predator control going forward
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — The Doña Ana County Commission passed a resolution Tuesday that ensures county funds can no longer be spent on lethal predator and rodent control. For years, the County has paid a federal agency called Wildlife Services up to $17,000 annually in “Farm and Range Improvement Funds,” for predator and rodent control.
“Up until today, these county funds were used exclusively for the lethal control of coyotes and other animals,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center. “Today, the County Commission is taking back control of that money so it can be used for programs the public really wants, like road maintenance and soil and water conservation.”
In 2017 alone, Wildlife Services killed over 8,000 animals in New Mexico using taxpayer dollars, employing methods like shooting, trapping, snaring, aerial gunning, and poisoning. Some of those animals were unintentional kills and included species like pronghorn, foxes, badgers, skunks, and dogs.
This week’s resolution including the amendment proposed by Commissioner Manuel Sanchez ensures that “Farm and Range Improvement Funds” can now only be used for soil and water conservation, noxious weed control, secondary road construction and maintenance, and control of predators and rodents using “exclusively non-lethal measures.”
“This is a big step for the County because it reflects the public’s changing values towards wildlife,” said Amanda Munro, communications director of the Southwest Environmental Center. “Especially here in New Mexico, human-animal interactions are inevitable and not all of them will be positive. This resolution recognizes that extermination does not have to be our default response to encounters with our wild neighbors. Coexistence is possible if we could give it a fair chance.”
Three members of the public spoke in favor of the resolution, including Nate Cote, former New Mexico representative who first sponsored the bill to ban coyote killing contests back in 2013. No one spoke against the bill.
The resolution passed by a 4:1 vote with Commissioner Solis voting against it.
Ranchers on federal public lands pay grazing fees to the federal government. A portion of those Taylor Grazing Act fees come back to states and are distributed under state law to individual counties as “Farm and Range Improvement Funds.” Under state law, counties can use those funds for any of six purposes, which include soil and water conservation, control of noxious weeds, secondary road construction and maintenance, dipping vats, and the control of rodents and predatory animals.
Like many counties around the nation, Doña Ana County has historically used those funds to enter into annual contracts with Wildlife Services, a federal agency under the Department of Agriculture which uses lethal methods to kill coyotes and other wildlife.
Wildlife Services has come under fire for its use of M-44 cyanide capsules, which attract canines and explode in their mouth when tugged. These capsules have killed pet dogs and non-target species all over the country. In 2017, a 14-year-old boy in Idaho was walking his dog when the dog activated an M-44 cyanide capsule. It killed the dog and knocked over the boy.
The resolution passed today limits the purposes the Farm and Range Improvement Funds can be used for to: soil and water conservation, noxious weed control, secondary road construction and maintenance, and control of predators and rodents using “exclusively non-lethal measures.”
The best available science indicates that indiscriminately killing coyotes disrupts pack social structures, which can lead to increased depredation and compensatory breeding.
The Southwest Environmental Center is a member-supported conservation organization that protects wildlife and their habitats in the Southwest through grassroots advocacy and on-the-ground restoration projects.