For Immediate Release
October 1, 2018
This week, 22 conservation, sportsmen’s and animal protection groups representing tens of thousands of New Mexicans sent a letter to the state’s gubernatorial candidates, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce, outlining the qualifications necessary for candidates nominated to the state game commission.
“No matter who our next governor is, it will be important that he or she appoints candidates who represent all New Mexicans and recognize the challenges of wildlife management in the 21st century,” Michael Dax, national outreach representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Considering the effects of climate change and our greater understanding of ecosystem ecology, it’s increasingly necessary that our policy makers have the knowledge needed to effectively steward New Mexico’s wildlife.”
Appointed by the governor, the game commission is comprised of seven representatives, who set policy for the Department of Game and Fish. Five of those seats represent the state’s four geographical quadrants plus Bernalillo County with two additional seats representing agriculture and conservation.
The State Game Commission was established in 1921 in order to decrease the influence of politics in setting wildlife policy. But over the past decades, the game commission has become an increasingly partisan body that no longer reflects the will of the majority of New Mexicans and lacks the expertise to make decisions based on the best available science.
As the letter outlines, any candidate appointed to the commission should be dedicated to protecting nongame wildlife, increasing the Department’s scope of authority, expanding the Department’s funding sources, and increasing transparency.
The Department of Game and Fish was established prior to statehood in response to precipitous declines of game species like deer and elk. Today, both species are thriving in the state, but many other species are not, and the Department needs to shift focus to wildlife beyond just game animals.
“For the past century, the Department of Game and Fish has primarily focused on managing species for hunting and fishing, but New Mexicans’ relationship to wildlife has changed since then,” claims Jessica Johnson, chief legislative officer for Animal Protection of New Mexico. “We now have a greater science-based understanding of how important every species is to the functioning of our ecosystems—as well as changing values and economic opportunities—and we need to have leaders who are willing and able to take a more holistic approach to wildlife stewardship.”
Part of this change should include expanding the scope of the Department’s authority. According to Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center, the Department of Game and Fish only has legislative authority to manage about 60 percent of the state’s wildlife.
“Although this change will require action from the legislature, we need commissioners who recognize the need for the Department to have expanded authority and are committed to achieving this goal,” says Bixby.
If the Department’s mission is expanded, this change will likely require additional funding. Currently, the majority of the Department’s revenue is generated through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses or through federal excise taxes on the sale of firearms, ammunition or fishing tackle. However, nationally, participation in these activities is declining, threatening the long-term sustainability of this model.
“We need to start looking outside the box for how we are going to fund wildlife management in the future,” explains John Crenshaw, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the old system won’t be viable in 20 or 30 years and we need to be proactive.”
According to the letter, new sources of funding should also be more democratic. “It’s also important that we find additional funding sources that engage all New Mexicans to contribute to the long-term health of our wildlife,” says Teresa Seamster, chair of the Northern New Mexico Group of the Sierra Club. “Right now, it’s mainly hunters and anglers who contribute, but the majority of New Mexicans that don’t hunt and fish still benefit greatly from our state’s wildlife.”
Finally, the letter stresses the need to ensure transparency and responsiveness within the commission. The commission has often made unanimous decisions, with little or no discussion, that directly contradict the sentiments of the majority of audience members, giving the impression that public input is a mere formality.
The Department’s website currently includes Santa Fe PO Boxes for each commissioner, but does not include email address or phone numbers. Also, while the commission has in the past held one Saturday meeting each year, that has not been the case for the past two years.
“It’s absolutely necessary that New Mexicans have a real say in the decisions made about our wildlife,” says Judy Calman, staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Requiring agencies to take public input into account is a crucial way to ensure decision-makers are working for New Mexico’s long-term future and to provide citizens a check on the actions of their government. Right now, that’s not possible.”
The coalition of groups are hoping to meet with both candidates to discuss the letter and its prescriptions in detail.