To The Point

by Caren Cowan

There is Good News!

With the 2013 Legislature in high gear, animal owners are fully embroiled in the bi-annual take-no-prisoners combat with the animal rights/environmentalist community. This is one of those issues that just never goes away.

Part of the job of legislators is to try and get opposing sides to come together in a mutually agreeable comprise on proposed legislation. It has been said that the best compromises are when everyone goes away unhappy. That is not a philosophy that I particularly subscribe to, but that is a story for another day.

Sometime in the mid 1990s the majority of the ag groups came to the conclusion that we might be best served by coming to a compromise with the animal rights folks by standing aside on the issue of a state statute on animal cruelty. The caveats were that agriculture was exempt from the legislation and that it would remain so for all time. In return, we would not oppose the animal cruelty bill proposed at the time. There were those among us, namely Bud Eppers and Walter Bradley, who told us we were making a mistake.

One might say that crow is best served cold, but that probably at best violates some politically correct rule some place and at worst might be construed as a threat to birds. Since the deal was made, there have been numerous attempts to “enhance” the statute further criminalizing more and more things. Although at times things were pretty uncomfortable and I had to stretch my imagination to figure that the ag exemption covered my beloved Betsy and now Abby.

There have been some ugly arguments – there was that animal hoarding bill, that I thought was a misprint and they were talking about boarding. Growing up on a ranch with lots of animals of all kinds, animal hoarding was truly a foreign concept.

It also became clear over time what a copout saying “we stand by our word” while others all around you are at serious risk really is.

The original bill for 2013 protected insects and snakes as well as requiring that judges sentence extreme animal cruelty offenders to psychological counseling and a cute definition of “tormenting” which “means causing great distress or agitation or inflicting physical pain or mental anguish.”

Really? Mental anguish? Great distress? I really don’t want Abby to see this bill. I could become a felon pretty quickly, especially during the Legislature when home is a place to visit for the duration.

For those of you who have not met my not-so-mini, blue-eyed Australian Sheppard, it is clear that she is in “great distress” every time she gets left home in a comfortably air – conditioned home with unlimited water, free run of the furniture, one square meal a day and too often unlimited treats. There is no doubt that she would rather be wherever I am and her favorite place is in my lap.

In the 2013 proposed legislation, which are Senate Bill 83 and House Bill 224, “tormenting” an animal is animal cruelty. The first cruelty crime will get you a misdemeanor. Heretofore that misdemeanor was sentenced pursuant to N.M.’s criminal procedure in Chapter 31 in the statutes. If the new measures pass, animal cruelty sentencing will fall into Chapter 30, criminal offenses, and will have its own punishment. The new misdemeanor punishment is “imprisonment for a definite term of less than one year or payment of a fine not to exceed . . . $1,000, but not both.”

Upon a fourth or subsequent conviction you will become a felon and shall be punished by 18 months imprisonment or payment of a fine not to exceed $5,000, but not both.

What puts animal sentencing above the criminal code that applies to other crimes?

I don’t know how many of you watch the Super Bowl for the football or the commercials, but if you pay attention to the commercials, a lot of them include animals. There is some of that treatment could sure be considered “tormenting.”

Doritos is one of the biggest “offenders.” They have one commercial where a guy engages in an action that could be termed tormenting a dog outside through a glass door with Doritos. The dog becomes agitated, takes a run at the door, knocking both the door and the guy flat. Not only was there tormenting, but was that dog injured when it hit the door?

There is another one with a little girl in a car seat who flashes Doritos to a dog in front of an open car window. You guessed it, the dog jumped out the window. Wasn’t that tormenting? Again, was the dog injured?

The next thing you know someone will be trying to outlaw Super Bowl commercials, at least in N.M.

There are two (at least) other much more serious issues in play here. First, who is going to determine if an animal has been put through great distress or mental anguish? Does this spawn a whole new, or at least expanded, group of “professionals” to make these determinations? Or worse, does that determination lay in the minds of animal control officers or one of your neighbors who is upset with you and reports you for something real or imagined?

If accused, you will get your day in court, but what will that cost you? The costs could go well beyond the attorneys.

The other issue is how these laws are used to rank and publicize how “cruel” a particular state is to animals. In mid December one Albuquerque television station posted on Facebook that “N.M. has been named one of the top five states for animal abusers, alongside Iowa, Kentucky, North Dakota and South Dakota.”

One might think that such a ranking might come from the number of convictions for animal abuse crimes. Not so much.

According to the station, the list was created by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which rates states based on punishments for animal abuse offenders, education programs to prevent animal abuse, and the law enforcement authority afforded to humane officers. N.M. received an “F” for the felony charges available in animal abuse cases, and didn’t have many of the programs other states had to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The story on the station’s website ended with “If you’d like to help, you can contact your local Animal Welfare Alliance or Animal Protection of N.M..” This statement was complete with a link directly to the APNM website.

However, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reported in November 2012 that N.M. ranked 25th, basing their scoring primarily on animal fighting laws and penalties as well as ownership of exotic pets. The worst offenders on the HSUS list were South Dakota, South Carolina, Idaho, and North Dakota. Although it was readily available with a simple web search, that piece of information was not reported with the much more inflammatory story. When I went to school the reporting of this particular television station wasn’t part of good journalism.

I am certainly not endorsing the HSUS and its ranking. But the contrast demonstrates the way even like-minded groups can twist reality.

Care to guess who is the proponent of the 2013 legislation? Well, that group calls itself Animal Voters of N.M. and is an arm of Animal Protection of N.M.

Wake up call for Texas

In the wake of always increasing federal regulatory pressure on land under federal control, looking over the fence from areas where private land prevails landowners have felt safe and even felt sympathy for those who have suffered at the hands of regulators dictating their every move. Even in states with mixed land ownership, private landowners have believed that the concept of private property rights would protect them from governmental overreach.

There were those federal land users who have felt that they were merely the first line of defense for property rights – much like sheep were the first line of defense for cattle from predators.

Over the past few years it has become ever clearer that property rights be they on federal lands or on private lands are in jeopardy from federal environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. The dunes sagebrush lizard began to draw a lot more players into the fray a couple of years ago. An ESA listing threatened the oil fields in southeastern N.M. and southwestern Texas. Bonds were forged on the ground and in Congress to win the day, at least for the short term, on that critter.

In November a listing of the lesser prairie chicken threatens to cross the bounds of property ownership and state lines. Some of the debate is being blurred by conversations on whether a listing may be as “endangered” or “threatened.” Folks, it doesn’t matter which label is put on the bird; the restrictions associated with either listing will be the same.

Meetings are being held on the issue. Congressman Steve Pearce is planning a rally in Roswell on February 12 prior to the meeting there.

Perhaps the biggest blow to come to the east side of N.M. and west Texas was the release of a draft Southwestern Gray Wolf management plan and draft environmental assessment (EA) to counties, tribes and agencies for comment. The document was postmarked on December 20 and had a comment deadline of February 1.

Given that many counties didn’t have enough notice to even get the item on their commission agendas, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) quickly extended the comment deadline to April 1. At this point in time, the FWS is only accepting comments from counties, tribes and agencies. Once those comments are received, final documents will be available to the public for their comment and eventually a final decision.

Many aspects of this whole episode are troubling, but perhaps the most troubling is the position that Texas Parks & Wildlife has taken. In response to questions from their constituents, they produces a “fact sheet” that includes the following:

Should ranchers or other landowners be concerned about gray wolves coming to Texas?

At this time, we have no reason to believe that wolves may recolonize Texas from neighboring states or countries in the near future.

If gray wolves do stray into to Texas, what can landowners do?

The draft plan outlines options for dealing with nuisance wolves that might naturally disperse into Texas. TPWD is currently reviewing the draft plan to determine if it provides acceptable management alternatives in the unlikely event that wolves naturally disperse into the state.

In the unlikely scenario that wolves stray into Texas, the draft federal plan calls for people to immediately communicate any report of possible wolf depredation on domestic livestock or pets to the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project Interagency Field Team field office in Arizona at 928/ 339-4329.

Who can I contact for more info?

Landowners or others with general questions can contact the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program Coordinator at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service southwest regional office in Albuquerque at 505/761-4748.

Texas landowners or others who wish to contact TPWD may contact the Wildlife Division regional office in Alpine, Texas, 432/837-2051.

If I lived in Texas, this sure wouldn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy. Clearly the writer of this document hasn’t been paying attention to what is going on in N.M. and Arizona for since 1998. What does anybody expect the field team in Arizona to do about depredations in Texas? Talk to the folks in Arizona and N.M. about what happens when they report depredation. Find out who compensates you for your losses.

Wherever you live, if you haven’t seen the documents, please visit the N.M. Cattle Growers’ website at www.nma to read them. Look at the maps and contact your county commission or board of supervisors IMMEDIATELY to make sure they are going to comment on your behalf. You also need to contact your representatives in Congress. They are willing to help, but they need to know what you want them to do.

I should point out that the FWS isn’t currently planning on releasing wolves in Texas and other proposed areas. They are talking about allowing the wolves to “recolonize”.

Also please notice that the document is not referring to Mexican wolves. They are talking about Southwestern Gray Wolves. Where did that term come from? What does it mean?

The Colfax County Commission held a public hearing on the issue in late Jan. where there was overwhelming opposition to the plan. More hearings in all three states might be in order between now and April 1.

Stay tuned as this and many other issues develop!