Most everybody has some acquaintances they’d describe as wild friends.

In Rio Rancho, the wildlife-concerned group known as Wild Friends counts about two-dozen Cyber Academy seventh-grade students as its acquaintances.

Last month, the students, plus four Cyber Academy ninth-graders, headed to the state Capitol, where their mission was to convince legislators that poaching in the state deserves more than misdemeanor status: It should be a fourth-degree felony, resulting in what could be an 18-month stretch in jail.

Not only did Wild Friends spearhead the trip, it also provided the bus to make it possible. Two years ago, Wild Friends’ involvement led to the passage of a memorial, “Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights,” which asked the state to recognize the rights of children to have access to outdoor activities and encouraged state agencies to develop outdoor programs for children. The memorial was HM 3 in the House and SM 10 in the Senate.

Founded in 1991 at the University of New Mexico School of Law, Wild Friends ( uses wildlife issues as a vehicle for civic education for students of all ages. Hence, the involvement of Cyber Academy students, who needed a worthy cause this school year; they worked on DWI issues last school year.

The seventh-graders researched poaching and the laws against it, then drafted their own legislation to address the topic. They also listened intently to a Department of Game & Fish spokesperson, who visited the school in November to address the issue.

That led to the trip to Santa Fe to present their legislation and meet with local representatives, get a look inside the Roundhouse and see up close the process involved before a bill becomes law.

“We got to see the governor’s office and talked to Rep. Tim Lewis, Rep. Jason Harper and Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert,” said Totsoni Willeto.

Sue George of Wild Friends accompanied the students.

“According to the New Mexico Game & Fish Department, (poaching) is a big problem in New Mexico,” she said.

“Over a hundred of these cases occur annually and the current penalties are not sufficient to deter them, so the problem is getting worse,” she told KOB-TV reporter Stuart Dyson, who did a report on the Cyber Academy adventure.

“Right now poachers just get a slap on the wrist,” Dylan Martinez, a Cyber Academy seventh-grader told Dyson in his story. “Now if we succeed, then poaching will go from a misdemeanor to a felony in the fourth degree.”

Brendan Walker said he’s upset with the poachers who “take a certain part for poaching and leave the rest out there.” The emphasis is on trophy poachers, who illegally shoot big-game animals and remove the heads and horn racks, leaving the carcasses to rot.

He said some hunters go out seeking the gall bladders from bears, which can fetch $800 an ounce. (The Humane Society of the U.S. says that a bear gall bladder can cost more than $3,000 in Asia, where some people use the organ for medicinal purposes.)

“It’s not fair to the animal; it should be with the natural resources and where it belongs, Josh Contrucci added.

“These students have been very faithful with what they said they would do,” said teacher Linda Rhodes, who is in her fourth year at Cyber Academy and in her 47th year as an educator.

“It was the best day of school — ever,” Contrucci concluded.