Buffalo hunt halted

  • Carlos Tsosie Jr., lt. gov. of Picuris Pueblo near Taos, protests

    Jessie Woodall
  Fighting their case through federal court, a coalition of animal rights groups and Indian tribes has stopped New Mexico from staging its first public buffalo hunt in 110 years.

A federal judge ruled Jan. 26 that the U.S. Army needed to conduct a preliminary environmental analysis first. The state agency had scheduled three hunts at Fort Wingate, the 10,000-acre decommissioned Army depot where the state grazes its herd of 60 buffalo. Nine animals were to be killed.

U.S. District Judge Martha Vasquez issued a preliminary injunction after telling a packed Santa Fe courtroom that she could not ignore the mandates of the National Environmental Policy Act. It requires an environmental analysis of activities occurring on federal lands.

"I'm delighted that the judge ended this decision," says Grove Burnett, a lawyer for the coalition. "Its implications go far beyond the buffalo hunts. I think all hunts on military lands are going to be subject to environmental considerations."

The proposed hunts sparked heated opposition. Many hunters and non-hunters called the hunts unsporting, and Indians said they would desecrate a sacred animal.

Members of Picuris Pueblo have offered to distribute the bulls to other tribes rather than see them shot. Game department officials turned down the offer, saying the hunt is the most efficient way to reduce the herd's ratio of breeding-age bulls to cows and provide public hunting opportunities.

Not all tribes oppose buffalo hunts. According to state fish and game spokesman John Crenshaw, the Jicarilla Apache tribe offers hunters a chance to kill buffalo from its herd in northwest New Mexico. The cost: $5,000.

*Andrew Hay