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It has been 2 full weeks since the NM State Game Commission held their December virtual meeting. Usually, we strive to publish our re-caps within a day or two of the meeting however, the bombshell that was dropped on our industry during the Commission meeting required immediate response and that effort delayed the timing of this re-cap.
If you were still enjoying the peace and tranquility of the woods last week you may not have heard that NM Senator Martin Heinrich used the December 3rd Game Commission meeting to publicly launch an attack on the EPLUS system, private landowners, and nonresident elk hunters. Senator Heinrich sent a letter to the Commission on Dec. 2nd. That letter was discussed by the Commission during an agenda item titled “Committee Reports”. To listen to the discussion recording click HERE and forward to The Senator released his letter to the public via Facebook at nearly the same minute that the discussion of his letter was taking place during the Commission meeting. The Commission discussion prompted public comment from the usual suspects (BHA & NMWF) who never miss an opportunity voice their anti-private property/anti-nonresident stance. Yet the whole thing seemed just a bit too orchestrated…
While NMCOG was admittedly caught off-guard by the discussion that took place two weeks ago, it is now clear that there are Game Commissioners who are working behind the scenes to push changes to the EPLUS system. What is still unclear is the timing of this effort. The Commission could open the EPLUS Rule anytime. It is also unclear whether there will be a side attempt (from BHA or NMWF) to repeal the statute that mandates the NMDGF to issue landowner elk permits. The EPLUS system is the lifeblood of the outfitted hunting industry in NM. NMCOG will work tirelessly to advocate for the system and to educate individuals on the important mutual benefits provided to NM’s economy, landowners, and resident hunters through EPLUS. You can find more information on this issue at https://www.nmoutfitters.com/eplus.html.
Below is our Re-cap of the Dec. 3rd virtual Commission meeting.
Director Sloane provided the Commission an update on several ongoing Department efforts including their project related to Wildlife Corridors. He additionally provided an overview on the Legislative Finance Council Program Evaluation Report which they conducted on the NMDGF. Director Sloane stated that the NMDGF is the only natural resource agency that has ever had a program evaluation done by the LFC. The report produced 3 general findings. They encouraged collaboration with other agencies (which the Dept. already does but plans to make more publicly obvious), the Dept. to work with LFC and DFA to develop new and improved evaluation standards for the Dept., and recommended the Dept. make a few changes to some Dept./Commission policies (EPLUS being on that list).
The Director also provided an update on the ongoing public comment process regarding the Habitat Stamp proposal. NMDGF held another public meeting on the issue that generated comments opposed to the fee increase being tied to CPI as well as opposing reducing regional representation in advisory committees. Based on this input the Dept. revised their final proposal to give the Commission the ability to defer that annual CPI adjustment. The final Dept. proposed changes to the rule have been published to the registrar where they needs to remain unchanged for 30 days prior to commission approval. The Commission will formally approve the change to the Habitat Stamp Program at their January meeting.
Finance Committee (Salazar-Henry, Vesbach, Bates) – Chair Salazar-Henry provided an update on their work as a committee which has been meeting to review trends in the NMDGF budgetary issues.
Hunt Structure Committee (Vesbach, Salazar-Henry, Soules) – Chair Vesbach explained that this committee has been looking at how permits are allocated between user groups (resident/non-resident) and attempting to determine how to allocate more permits to resident hunters. The committee is looking ahead to make changes to provide more resident hunter opportunity when the Big Game Rule opens in 2022 or possibly before.
Customer Feedback Committee (Cramer, Lopez) – Chair Cramer explained that this committee is looking at how the Dept. gathers feedback from stakeholders. The committee will continue to research ways to establish and develop additional ways for the Dept. to obtain public feedback from all parties and agencies impacted by Dept. policy.
SUBSEQUENT DISCUSSION ON THE HUNTER EDUCATION RULE
Department Chief of Information & Education, Lance Cherry, provided a final updated presentation to the Commission regarding the proposed changes to the Hunter Education Rule. Currently under the Dept.’s Mentored-Youth Hunting Program first-time youth hunters, 10 years of age and older, are allowed the ability to hunt small game, turkey, javelina, and deer (without going through a formal hunters education program) for two license years in the accompaniment of a licensed parent or guardian (i.e. “mentor”) The Dept. is proposing a roll back of the minimum age requirement from 10yrs to 8yrs and adding the requirement that a program Mentor must pass an abbreviated written hunting test. The Dept. is also proposing to add pronghorn antelope to the list of huntable game (but only for youth age 10-17 )and would like to change the rule from permanent to a four-year cycle, April 1, 2021 – March 31, 2025.
Interestingly some Commissioners voiced opposition to the proposed changes put forth by the Dept. even though the Commissioners themselves had made the suggested changes in previous meetings. Regardless, the Commission voted 4-3 to approve the Rule. Commissioners Vesbach, Cramer, and Soules voted against the motion.
INITIATION OF THE HUNTING AND FISHING LICENSE AND APPLICATION RULE
The Dept. provided a final presentation on changes they wish to make to the license application rule as it relates to the mobility impaired certification for permanent conditions. The Dept. expressed that the current process is being manipulated by individuals who are attempting to cheat the system and increase their draw odds. The Dept. has discovered that there are many individuals who are applying for hunts within the mobility impaired hunt codes as their first choice and hunt codes for not mobility impaired as a second/third choice (which would indicate the mobility impairment is either not a permanent condition or not severe enough to limit hunter mobility). The Dept. would like to change the eligibility requirement for the mobility impaired certification to be eligible only to those individuals who have an inability to walk. They are also planning to remove the allowance for mobility impaired hunters to utilize a crossbow during archery season. A crossbow will be available for hunters under a permit with can be applied for annually. The Commission voted unanimously to approve the Dept.’s proposed changes.
UPDATE ON MEXICAN GRAY WOLF RECOVERY EFFORTS
Wildlife Chief Stewart Liley provided the Commission an update on the Dept. efforts to partner with the USFWS in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery efforts. Chief Liley gave a brief history of the recovery efforts and went on to describe the 2020 efforts as well as successes and struggles. The COVID restrictions as they relate to the international US/MX border have complicated recovery efforts in 2020 however, the program has seen a record number of survival within the cross fostered wolf pups (pups born in captivity and placed with a wild wolf pair very early in infancy). Since 2014, there have been 50 genetically diverse wolf pups cross-fostered into the wild. Five cross-fostered wolves have survived to breeding age, resulting in multiple litters of genetically diverse pups born in the wild. There are currently 14 genetically valuable cross-fostered wolves that are collared and alive in the wild that the IFT is actively monitoring. Highly likely there are additional cross-fostered wolves alive in the population that have yet to be captured and collared. The recovery team will continue collaring efforts in 2021 to document additional cross-foster survival.
OVERVIEW OF THE DEPARTMENT’S HATCHERY SYSTEMS OPERATIONS
Department Fisheries Chief Kirk Patten provided an update on the fish hatchery operations for informational purposes only. Chief Patten explained that the Dept. operates six state fish hatcheries in support of recreational angling and fisheries conservation in New Mexico. Performance based measures set by the Legislature include rearing approximately 640,000 pounds of fish per year from Department hatcheries. The Department consistently meets that target by rearing triploid rainbow trout, walleye, largemouth bass, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, kokanee, Gila trout, YY-male brook trout, and purchasing channel catfish for the summer catfish stocking program. The Department maintains a Rio Grande cutthroat trout brood-stock at Seven Springs Hatchery, a largemouth bass brood-stock at Rock Lake Hatchery, and conducts annual field spawns to maintain walleye and kokanee fisheries across the state. Triploid rainbow trout eggs are purchased from a private hatchery. Due to the age of these facilities, there are continual maintenance costs along with capital investments to replace aging infrastructure and staff housing. Many of the buildings are eligible or designated as historical buildings which creates additional challenges and maintenance costs.
OVERVIEW OF THE DEPARTMENT’S CONSERVATION INFORMATION SYSTEM
Dept. Share with Wildlife Coordinator Ginny Seamster provided an informational update from the Ecological and Environmental Planning Division. The Division provides important technical guidance reviews for a diversity of proposed infrastructure projects, develops comprehensive conservation planning documents, and funds projects focused on
informing and enhancing the conservation of Species of Greatest Conservation Need through the Share with Wildlife program. There are several public-facing tools and datasets that the Division has developed in collaboration with Natural Heritage New Mexico, that form the backbone of the conservation-related information and services that the Division provides. These tools and datasets, along with the Share with Wildlife program, are interconnected and present different scales and types of information to inform wildlife conservation in New Mexico. This Conservation Information System is envisioned as a single-entry point for all publicly available conservation-related information on New Mexico’s flora and fauna. The division covers six Dept. run programs:
During the public comment segment of the meeting individuals brought up issues from several topics. There were several comments in favor of the Habitat Stamp Fee increase and one comment opposed. There were several comments from individuals who live in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains and were disturbed by recent hunter behavior during the youth archery deer hunt (gut piles left on public trails, dangerous usage of weapons, and deer being killed too close to inhabited areas). These folks encouraged the commission to consider a no-hunting perimeter between inhabited areas and forest service property.
Next Commission Meeting – January 15, 2021 (Virtual)
COMMISSIONER CONTACT INFORMATION
(You are welcome and encouraged to contact the Commissioners any time to voice your opinion)
Sharon Salazar Hickey - Chairwoman
District 4: Santa Fe, Taos, Colfax, Union, Mora, Harding, Quay, San Miguel, Guadalupe and Torrance counties
Roberta Salazar-Henry – Vice Chairwoman
District 2: Catron, Socorro, Grant, Hidalgo, Luna, Sierra and Doña Ana counties
District 1: Curry, De Baca, Roosevelt, Chaves, Lincoln, Otero, Eddy and Lea counties
District 3: San Juan, McKinley, Cibola, Valencia, Sandoval, Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties
District 5: Bernalillo county.
Appointed At-large – Conservation Position