Bill would outlaw animal-killing contests in the state

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A proposed piece of state legislation is keeping the controversy of coyote hunts in the spotlight this legislative session.

House Bill 316, sponsored by Rep. Nathan Cote (D-53, Organ), would outlaw animal-killing contests and sentence both participants and organizers to stiff fines and jail time.

Those opposed to the contests, such as Bosque Farms resident Judy Babcock, feel the activity is inhumane and disturbing.

"My biggest concern is the competition to kill, rather than hunting for food. And unfortunately, there seems to be a number of 'sportsman' teaching their children about this supposed sport," said Babcock, owner of a local dog rescue operation.

Babcock said from the studies she has seen, killing coyotes is counterproductive to the argument that the contest hunts cull predators.

"My understanding is if you kill the alpha dogs, the remaining dogs pair up and breed more," she said. "From what I've seen, these contests aren't for predator management. They do it because they enjoy it. It's about kill for the thrill. I think it's counterproductive to life on Earth."

There are plenty of ways to compete with firearms, Babcock says, pointing out that there are target contests that don't involve a living animal as the target.

"I've seen photos, videos showing piles and piles of carcasses. And these men grinning. It's just not humane," she said. "If a coyote attacks my horse, I will take care of it. But things like calling contests, where they call them in to be killed, then line them up for a photo. This kill for the thrill is over the line."

But local gun shop owner Mark Chavez sees the bill as something much more than just legislation to stop the contest hunts.

"Like I've said from the very beginning, I believe there is a hidden agenda," said Chavez, owner of Gun Hawk Firearms in Los Lunas. "This is not just attacking just a contest, but hunters' rights, individual rights. A lot of these people would love to see the gun industry get eliminated also."

Chavez, who sponsored a controversial coyote hunt in November, said many of the people who come into his store are angry about the bill, and he has collected more than 200 signatures on a petition opposing the proposed legislation.

And he says the contests can be a financial boon to many small New Mexico towns and communities.

"These small little towns, I bet the unemployment rate is probably much higher than the average 8 percent and they welcome any kind of dollars — at the gas pump, the grocery store. People might shop a little while they are there, I don't know. These contests draw a crowd to a community and people spend some money."

Some of the contests can generate some big money, both for the sponsor of the hunt and the ultimate winner, Chavez said. He said he's heard or contests, depending on the entry fee and number of participants, handing out a $10,000 grand prize.

"And if someone wins who happens to live in that community, I'm sure they would spread it around there," he said.

Chavez said it's human nature to be competitive.

"To tell me I cannot compete, tell me it's unethical, those people are just full of it," he said. "You don't have to compete to kill something just for the heck of it. If you swat a fly, it was a living breathing thing. Does it have the same rights to live as anything else? It probably does.

"The thing about it is, we're at the top of the food chain."

Chavez said he and Gun Hawk are planning to have more hunts, most likely next winter.

When asked if he had a feel for whether the bill would ultimately pass, Chavez said the only gauge he has right now is his 300,000 some Facebook followers and the signatures on the petition.

"I know that we get a lot of phone calls and a lot of people coming into the store who are upset about it," he said. "There are a lot of people in this state who have been in these contests before and they enjoy them. It's part of their lifestyle."

"As a New Mexico native who has worked in the farming and cattle, construction and oil industries, and has two children who are Native American," Chavez says, "I am New Mexico. If someone tells me I can't have hunting contests, whether it's for coyotes, hogs or rabbits, they better be ready for a fight. I'm willing to go all the way with it."

The bill defines an animal-killing contest as an "organized or sponsored activity in which a person competes with the objective of killing animals …" where more than one animal can legally be killed or a license is not required to kill an animal.

The bill would make it illegal to either organize or participate in an animal-killing contest.

Organizers of such a contest could face a fine of up to $5,000 on the first conviction, and second and subsequent violations could result in the same fine and jail time of less than one year.

For participants, a first conviction would result of a fine of no more than $1,000 and a second conviction would result in the same fine and not more than six months in jail.

A third conviction would result in a fine of no more than $5,000 and no more than a year in jail.

According to the fiscal impact report on the proposed bill, prepared by the Legislative Finance Committee, the cost of jailing offenders could range from $31,700 to $317,000 per year.

Those figures were based on the annual incarceration costs for one to 10 individuals at an assumed cost of $86.81 per inmate per day.

Those recurring costs would be shouldered by the county in which the offender was sentenced.

The LFC received responses to the bill from several state offices that raised some concerns.

The attorney general's office noted that the bill was somewhat vague and did not explain what the goal of a contest must be in order for it to be prohibited.

The Administrative Office of the Courts raised the concern that the bill defines participation in an animal-killing contest as "knowingly taking part" in a contest, but does not define what it means by "knowingly taking part."

The bill defines "animal" as any member of the animal kingdom, except fish or human beings. The Public Defender Department noted that the term "animal kingdom" includes insects.

"This may be unintentionally overbroad," the PDD response reads.

The bill is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.