In one New Mexico county, bears released back into wild causing concern
SANTA FE, N.M. — Records show nearly half of all black bears captured by game wardens across New Mexico over the last three years have been released to one northern New Mexico county.
According to documents obtained by the Santa Fe New Mexican under an open-records request, the state Department of Game and Fish has captured 68 bears across New Mexico since 2015, and 32 were released in the mountains of Rio Arriba County.
Northern New Mexico ranchers and others have long believed that the area has become a dumping ground for bears captured in other parts of the state, causing the death of livestock and other property damage.
“Of course it’s an issue because bears, they’re predators,” said Carlos Salazar, president of the Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association. “They’re going to go after sheep. They’re going to go after goats. They’re going to go after calves.”
Dan Williams, a spokesman for the Department of Game and Fish, said there is no evidence that relocated bears are causing abnormal livestock predation in Rio Arriba County.
Rio Arriba County provides an ideal habitat for bears, he said. The county stretches from the Colorado border on the north to Espanola on the south and from the Jicarilla Apache Nation on the west to Tres Piedras on the east.
“Rio Arriba County contains a large area of remote forest land that is suitable bear habitat, much of it with low bear densities,” Williams said.
He added that bears “are relocated to areas a good distance from the capture site, areas known to have suitable bear habitat, and areas with bear densities low enough to preclude territorial disputes among bears.”
Rio Arriba County Commissioner Alex Naranjo said the 12 additional bears released in the county when compared with the number captured there over the past three years didn’t seem like a big deal because the area has a lot of forest.
Still, Naranjo questioned why the department captured seven bears in Bernalillo County but released only one back into the wild in that county.
The capture and relocation of bears is increasing. Game and Fish captured 19 bears in 2015, 16 last year and 33 so far this year.
Williams said 2015 and 2016 had high reproduction and survival rates for bears statewide as a result of increased spring moisture and good forage conditions that allowed female bears to raise multiple cubs.