NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – There’s a bear boom in New Mexico, and the state is considering allowing more bear hunting. They’re now asking the public to weigh in on the proposed change.

The top predators in the state, bears, are thriving according to New Mexico Game and Fish. And that could affect how many the state allows to be hunted next year.

Game and Fish said the statewide population of bears is around 8,000. That’s an increase over previous years, with especially big jumps in parts of the state affected by fires, where more recent rains have led to abundant growth. 

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“What’s been interesting, and you know, as I said, kind of over these past three or four years, we’ve been in this drought or over these past 10. However, many years we’ve been in this long drought. But over the past three or four years, what we’ve been seeing, this really good food sources for bears, really abundant mass crop and a lot of food out there for bears,” said Nick Forman with New Mexico Game and Fish.

The proposal would affect the zones with the most bears – the Gila National Forest and the Santa Fe National Forest outside Jemez, raising the limit on the number of bears people can hunt during the year. That number would increase from 158 to 168 bears in the Santa Fe National Forest, and from 146 to 197 bears for the year in the Gila National Forest.

The state would cap the total number of bears killed statewide to 12% of the population with even stricter restrictions on female bears. It would also remain illegal to kill any bear cubs or female bears with cubs.

The state Game and Fish Department is holding a public comment period on this proposal. One local conservation group has already weighed in. “I would not like to see us losing either bears or cougars. They’re our legacy, our wild legacy and we need to give them every care and every precaution to make sure they’re not being killed at too great of numbers, so we can keep them into the future,”

The proposal also includes minor changes to hunting licenses for cougars. The Game and Fish Department will hold a public meeting on all the proposed changes, in Raton on August 25th.