NM bears under siege, animal advocates say

Renee Blake

Public News Service | New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE — What is being portrayed by some as an infrequent and humane response to hungry bears entering towns looking for food, is actually quite another matter, according to Jan Hayes founder of Sandia Mountain Bear Watch. Hayes is looking for the state to institute stopgap diversionary feeding to keep the bears alive at this difficult time, and keep them away from people.

Bears in the Sandia Mountains are entering towns looking for food during the long New Mexico drought. Photo courtesy of: Jim Robertson via Public News Service)

Bears in the Sandia Mountains are entering towns looking for food during the long New Mexico drought.
Photo courtesy of: Jim Robertson via Public News Service)

She said what is happening to Sandia Mountain bears is an ecological disaster, that the drought and lack of food for the bears, along with the hunter-focused attitudes of New Mexico Game and Fish, add up to a decimated bear population.

“They want the animals to be there for hunter opportunity,” she said. “Their only mode of management is to trap or kill. The Sandias is a wildlife preserve. So, it’s not a moneymaker for Game and Fish. Bears are a problem species that they would really prefer not be here.”

Stewart Liley, big-game program coordinator for N.M. Game and Fish, said feeding bears would cause them to become increasingly dependent upon artificial food sources. Hayes however said she believes the temporary measure would serve to get the bears “over the hump” and save their population in the Sandia Mountains. She is requesting a meeting with someone in Governor Martinez’ administration on the matter.

Hayes declared that the current style of bear management in the Sandia Mountains has caused an alarming rate of damage that cannot be overcome.

“We’re looking at bears that are completely lost to this population. There’s no way they can keep up with reproduction,” she said. “And we also expect 100 percent attrition of first-year cubs this year. They’re very slow reproducing. Our bears don’t even have their first baby until they’re five or six.”

Mary Katherine Ray, Rio Grande Chapter wildlife chair of the Sierra Club, said New Mexico adheres to the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, which says that wildlife, from roadrunners to butterflies, belongs to everyone in the state. That includes the bears in the Sandia Mountains.

“We all have a share in owning that wildlife, and it’s supposed to be democratically adjudicated,” Ray declared. “But when you look at the composition of the Game Commission, every last one of them is a hunter.”

She said she believes that mindset is getting in the way of seeing the benefits of diversionary feeding. Ray said that where it has been tried, bears that have been the beneficiaries of diversionary feeding have not become either dependent or dangerous.

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