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Environmentalists push for changes in New Mexico on beavers

July 6, 2019
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FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2014, photo, a tagged young beaver explores water hole near Ellensburg, Wash., after he and his family were relocated by a team from the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group. Environmental advocates in New Mexico are pushing for the state to change its policies around beavers, the pesky animals they say provide ecological benefits for river and stream. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports on June 29, 2019, WildEarth Guardians and other groups want New Mexico wildlife officials to rethink how it manages beaver populations, including policy revisions on beaver removal and relocation. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Environmental advocates in New Mexico are pushing for the state to change its policies about beavers.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that WildEarth Guardians and other groups want New Mexico wildlife officials to rethink managing the removal and relocation of the pesky animals the groups say provide ecological benefits for rivers and streams.

The push comes two months after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed seven new members to the State Game Commission, which is responsible for creating regulations regarding fish and wildlife in the state.

The Department of Game and Fish doesn’t have current data about how many beavers are in New Mexico, but an agency document from about eight years ago estimated there were around 6,000.

The revamped State Game Commission “has an opportunity to turn a page and create a new relationship and a new narrative with beavers that isn’t driven by this totally outdated belief that beavers are . problems,” said John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians.

The animals create occasional headaches for irrigators and private landowners by blocking water flows and damaging trees.

But environmentalists say beavers also form wetlands habitat —rare in the desert Southwest — and filter sediment, which improves water quality.

James Pitman, assistant chief of information for the Department of Game and Fish, said the state, which views beavers as beneficial when in suitable habitat, has a number of techniques it uses to mitigate conflict between humans and beavers. “Lethal control” is one of those. But he said the primary approach is educating landowners about how to coexist with beavers.

He added that the state’s Wildlife Division is developing and revising its beaver management strategies to include doing a survey of “beaver occurrences” and creating guidelines for relocation and for assessing the habitat suitability of relocation sites.

Pitman said the commission carefully assesses how the department addresses conflicts between humans and beavers.

Bryan Bird, Southwest program director with the national nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, said the state has made a potential solution to human-beaver conflict — such as moving the animals — difficult to execute.

“Game and Fish made all these contingencies in their permits that were almost impossible to meet,” he said.

A copy of a state permit for beaver relocation shows a clause requiring consent for the effort from all property owners, land management agencies, irrigation districts and other parties along waterways within a five-mile radius of the proposed release site.

Bird said he’s hopeful the new commissioners will make it easier to move beavers “from places we don’t want them to places we do want them.”

“The momentum is there to really learn to coexist with beavers, so I think we’re in a really exciting time right now,” Bird said.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.santafenewmexican.com

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