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Warming Winters Hurt New Mexico Wildlife

March 30, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico's profitable hunting and fishing traditions are at risk from increasingly warm winters, according to a new report.

The National Wildlife Federation says outdoor enthusiasts are scrambling to adapt to shifts in climate and habitat - and John Cornell says wildlife is, too. As the sportsman coordinator for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, he says one of the most iconic big-game species in the West is decreasing in numbers.

"We've seen declines in mule deer populations from the heydays back in the 1950s and 1960s. Mule deer don't adapt as well as white-tailed deer when they're competing in the same habitat."

The report says pronghorn and desert bighorn sheep are two other wildlife icons at risk. When habitat is affected, explains Cornell, it creates changes in migration patterns, birthing and fawning rates. In short, stressing habitat means stressing wildlife, which also means changes for hunters, anglers and birders.

Fish species also are experiencing challenges. Garrett Venneklasen, New Mexico public land coordinator for Trout Unlimited, says the Rio Grande and Gila cutthroat trout are native to New Mexico, and are what he calls "indicator species."

"They're a barometer for ecosystem health, and we really need to pay attention to them. It's sort of a stack of cards, when these species start to be impacted, everything sort of falls away behind them."

Venneklasen says a person doesn't have to believe in global warming to know that New Mexico fish and wildlife face challenges in a region of climate extremes. He says in such locations, responsible use is an important factor. For instance, ranchers can help the fish by keeping their cattle out of waterways, so the streams stay cooler.

"With these warmer springs and warmer winters, we're seeing water temperatures change. And oftentimes, only a couple of degrees can make or break the survival ability of those fish."

Venneklasen believes it will take a long-term plan for managing ecosystems, that includes responsible use and restoration work, to protect New Mexico's native species from disappearing.

The report, "On Thin Ice," is online at

Beth Blakeman, Public News Service - NM