In a swift reversal, state Rep. Zach Cook decided Monday to kill his own bill to make cougars an unprotected species.
Cook, R-Ruidoso, did not appear before the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee to present his bill. Instead, he asked a colleague, Republican Rep. Jim Smith of Sandia Park, to move that the measure be tabled.
Smith described the bill as one of the worst pieces of legislation he had seen. Committee members voted 5-0 to defeat Cook’s bill, which had drawn opposition from sportsmen and conservation groups.
“We’re really glad that representatives of both parties listened to the massive outcry,” said Phil Carter, a spokesman for Animal Protection Voters.
New Mexico Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, the state chapter of Republicans for Environmental Protection and many ordinary taxpayers were among those who opposed the bill.
Even so, Cook’s measure sailed through its first committee hearing Friday on a bipartisan, 8-2 vote. Lawmakers on the House Agriculture, Water and Wildlife Committee supported treating cougars as varmints that could be killed at any time and in any number, the same as skunks, coyotes and feral hogs.
Currently, those who want to hunt cougars must buy a license from the state Department of Game and Fish that entitles them to two kills. The state has required a hunting license to kill cougars since 1971.
When first presenting his proposal, Cook called it “a cleanup bill” to reduce the number of cougars in New Mexico. These mountain lions have a population of 3,000 to 4,500, according to the state Department of Game and Fish.
Between 2,000 and 2,500 cougar-hunting licenses are sold annually. Kills number about 200 a year, department employees said.
Ranchers supported Cook’s bill, saying cougars are a nemesis. But opponents said Cook had drafted a simplistic and unscientific bill that would have eliminated professional management of cougar populations.
Had his bill been approved and signed into law by the governor, the Department of Game and Fish would have lost all authority to regulate mountain lions.