Cougars could be shot on sight under a proposal headed to the New Mexico House for a vote.
The bill, backed by livestock growers, was endorsed recently by the House Government and Urban Affairs Committee.
It would take the cats also called mountain lions or pumas off the list of biggame animals whose hunting is regulated by the state Game and Fish Department.
Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton , the bill's sponsor, told the panel it could help balance the deer population, prevent losses by ranchers and provide more protection for children and pets.
"I like being able to protect our livestock," said Sharon Lombardi, executive director of the Dairy Producers of New Mexico, which supports the bill.
Opponents said the measure , which would make New Mexico the only state other than Texas to treat cougars as varmints, is too extreme.
"I don't understand how a policy of absolutely no limits on cougar killing could be perceived as a balanced approach," objected Lisa Jennings of Animal Protection Voters.
House Bill 47 would take away the Game and Fish Department's ability not only to set hunting limits, but to monitor and manage the cougar population, she said.
"The mountain-lion population is a valuable resource to the state," former department director Bill Huey said in a letter that was read to the committee.
The declining number of deer is a problem throughout the West, and there is no single cause for it, said Huey, who opposed the legislation.
"I hate this bill. ... It's very heavy-handed ," said committee Chairwoman Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque , who cast the only vote against the measure.