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N.M. Range Management Society Proposes Mediation on Elk Population Issue

LAS CRUCES -- The New Mexico Section of the Society for Range Management recommends mediation to help solve conflicts over the state's increasing elk population.

The society released a position paper about the elk issue following its annual meeting held in December in conjunction with the Conference on Livestock/Elk Habitat Management in the Southwest.

"The resolution calls for separate agencies responsible for land and wildlife to better coordinate their activities for management of elk on rangelands," said Kirk McDaniel, the society's new president and a professor with New Mexico State University's animal and range sciences department.

For several years, the state's elk population has steadily grown. "Part of the controversy is that some people who value abundant wildlife want to see ever-increasing elk numbers," McDaniel said. "The society's position is that's really not a responsible way to manage wildlife, because the land can support just so many animals that can graze without damaging plant cover and soils."

The increasing elk population also has caused problems for the state's ranchers, whose livestock numbers must be constantly adjusted to balance with the forage resource.

Specifically, the resolution said New Mexico's Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service should pool resources to hire a professional mediator.

Goals of the proposed mediation include: gaining consensus on an acceptable mix of elk and livestock that can be sustained with the available resources, and developing an appropriate management plan to achieve the goals set for both species "before permanent damage occurs to our precious rangelands."

During the annual meeting, the range society also honored Bob Jones, a rancher near Dell City, Texas, for excellence in range management and two professors from NMSU's animal and range sciences department.

Jones, a long-time proponent of responsible rangeland stewardship, has served on the state's Game and Fish Commission.

Rex Pieper, professor emeritus, was named Range Scientist of the Year. He was praised for his years of research directed at understanding the complexity and sustainability of rangelands under different uses and management practices.

Pieper retired in July 1997 after 34 years with NMSU. He had served informally as the range science coordinator for the department since 1975 and as assistant department head since 1990.

Jerry Holechek was given the 1997 President's Award for his work to advance and promote the society during the past year. He is responsible for putting out the society's quarterly newsletter. A range biologist, Holechek has been with the department since August 1979.