- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico lawmakers may scrap and rewrite regulations that currently mandate the euthanizing of bears and other wild animals that attack a human so that the animals can be tested for rabies.

A bill introduced before the Legislature convenes Tuesday allows for a case-by-case review on whether wild animals involved in an attack should be euthanized.

Animals would be spared under some circumstances when patients decide to take a rabies vaccine. Without that, rabies testing has to be done on the animal’s brain.

The current state law led to the death of a mother black bear last June following an attack on a marathon runner in the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

The runner, Karen Williams of Los Alamos, helped develop the legislation after being attacked by a bear that she believes was acting in defense of her two young cubs. The bear was captured and destroyed, and the cubs were captured and later released back in the wild.

Williams‘ injuries included deep puncture wounds and a bone fracture near one eye. She said the bear walked away after she stopped struggling.

The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, would give state health officials the ability to consider the current risk of rabies in specific wildlife populations, as well as whether a wild animal acted in self-defense, before requiring a test for rabies virus. Wild animals that exhibited predatory behavior toward humans or any symptoms of rabies would still be killed.

The proposed legislation follows assessments of rabies risks in specific animal populations from the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

For people who volunteer for the rabies vaccine, the law provides ways for a physician to intervene if the treatment may pose a health risk to the person.

Officials have said the state’s current policy is cautionary to protect the public from rabies and that any wild animal that bites a human should be considered potentially rabid until proven otherwise.

Williams said an update to the current law, instated in 1978, is overdue to spare animals that pose little risk to people. She said human encounters with wild animals are bound to increase as development and recreation encroaches on more animal habitats.

“People and wild animals are going to start interacting a lot more,” Williams said. “We’ve got to figure out some logical way of handling this.”

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