WILDLIFE: A RESOURCE IN DISPUTE
by Jerry MaracchiniDirector, New Mexico's Department of Game and Fish
This article appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of New Mexico Resources. Image courtesy of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
Working on the 'inside,' I can imagine few more challenging careers than managing New Mexico's wildlife in today's complex environment. Evidence abounds that people hold a strong interest in wild animals - savvy advertisers spend millions tapping that emotion. Ads feature wildlife from bears to bullfrogs. Matching that interest are wildly variant but strongly held opinions on how - even if - we humans should deal with wild animals.
Some people tie their emotional well-being to the presence of wild animals. Others couple aesthetics with pragmatic interests including food and money. At a further extreme are those dismissing wildlife as a nuisance to be displaced.
Pragmatically, wildlife does mean money and jobs. Wildlife-related recreation in New Mexico has a total economic impact of $768 million, accounting for 12,000 jobs, $27 million in state taxes, and more than $200 million in personal earnings. Of that $768 million, hunting and fishing account for nearly half, while non-consumptive activities make up the rest. More than 166,000 adult New Mexicans spend that money to pursue their interest, or interests, since many pursue more than one venue, and clear distinctions are rare.
Just as rare is consensus among these many individuals and groups on how their treasured resource should be managed. Most opinions fall well between the extremes of total protection for all species and eradication of anything seen as inconvenient. New Mexico's Department of Game and Fish has a legislative mandate to manage between extremes, to provide "an adequate and flexible system for the protection of the game and fish of New Mexico and for their use and development for public recreation and food supply." That doesn't end the discussions, however.
At least a few people believe that humans are not part of the natural world, and that we should "just leave wildlife alone." These people may object to hunting control, or see livestock grazing as encroaching on wild animals' land, but never recognize that their own dwelling sits on former wildlife domain.
Predator management is particularly contentious. Some want strong control to reduce competition between humans and mountain lions for deer, for instance, or to eliminate livestock predation. Others support limited hunting and see predators as necessary for healthy prey populations. Others contend that social structure and prey availability will control predator numbers, and we should let it happen.
Elk management draws lots of attention. A hunter may say there can't be too many. A rancher who sees elk as competition for livestock forage differs considerably. Social and economic differences swirl around resident versus nonresident hunters, outfitters, private land permit numbers, and depredation on fields and haystacks.
Consider opinions on the sanctity of species. Some argue that all species alive today are necessary for a healthy ecosystem. At the crux of the endangered species management dilemma lie mandates for listing, recovering, and delisting species, although many endangered species have lost the majority of their habitats. At best, they can be conserved or preserved, never recovered. However, the laws do not address to what extent or at what cost to whom.
Another continuous controversy is "native wildlife versus non-native." Some accept animal displacements caused by natural events, but label human-caused emplacements "disastrous." Many human-introduced species, such as horses and pheasants, have been here so long as to be considered naturalized if not native. Yet the battle rages with those who want to rid our continent of all non-natives and manage exclusively for native wildlife.
Those are highlights of the more pressing and public issues challenging wildlife managers. Recognizing consensus as rare, we will keep listening to our publics, keep viability of wildlife foremost in mind, and continue to weave as best we can a management system providing hunting, angling, and non-consumptive recreational opportunities as mandated by law.