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The NM State Game Commission hosted their first meeting of 2021 on Friday Jan. 15th. The meeting was, of course, virtual. Don’t let the benign nature of the agenda fool you. This meeting was full of twists, turns, and unexpected drama. Let’s get rolling…
COMMISSION CHAIR & VICE-CHAIR ANNUAL ELECTION
As is required annually, the Commissioners voted to elect a chair and vice-chair. Commissioner Sharon Salazar-Hickey was nominated and approved to serve another term as Commission chairwoman. Commissioner Jeremy Vesbach was nominated, by the current vice-chairwoman (Roberta Salazar-Henry), to serve as this year’s vice-chairman of the Commission. This was an interesting move considering Commissioners have not historically been quite so eager to voluntarily give up their chair positions.
STATE TRUST LAND EASEMENT
The Commission voted unanimously to approve the 2021-2025 State Trust Land Easement. The purpose of the Easement is to provide entry into state trust lands to authorized hunters, anglers, and trappers for the legal, regulated harvest of wild game and fish. The newly adopted agreement was, in my personal opinion, the highlight of the meeting. The Easement is mutually beneficial to both agencies and their constituents. It is not overly costly, encourages habitat improvement projects on State land, and continues all previous benefits afforded to sportsmen. It also details newly established camping areas and provides a clear process for individuals to obtain access in the event of locked gates. Hats off to the SLO, the NMDGF, and Commissioner Soules on drafting the most concise and easy to understand Easement agreement, maybe ever. You can read the entire agreement HERE.
This segment of the meeting was moved from the very end to the beginning to be more respectful of the average person’s time availability. This structure is anticipated to apply to future Commission agendas and NMCOG agrees wholeheartedly with the decision.
During public comment, Colleen Payne of the Mule Deer Foundation inquired about the status of the “extended hunts” better known as the Governor’s Hunt Auction tags. The Mule Deer Foundation has volunteered to sell these hunts for the Dept. during their annual MDF convention. The hunts were not sold last year due to COVID restrictions and the Dept. forfeited nearly $225,000 in auction revenue. Commissioner Salazar-Henry requested that the Director address the issue with Ms. Payne. Director Sloane gave a short, vague, non-response with zero details. We know there are many outfitters who are extremely interested in Governor’s Hunt Auction tags and unfortunately, NMCOG feels the Director’s comments are likely an indication that the Gov. Auction hunts might not be sold again in 2021.
John Crenshaw of the NMWF spoke out against the TA Land Grant attempt to legislatively take the WMAs in Rio Arriba county (NMCOG is also strongly opposed to this legislation – more on this in our 1st edition of the 2021 Round House Review which will be published next week).
Dave Kenneke with Cattle Growers spoke out in opposition to the pending changes to the Importation Rule and also spoke in favor of the EPLUS system and the conservation/economic benefits the program brings to the agriculture industry as well as outfitter/guides.
Director Sloane provided a report on the activities of the Department since the last Commission meeting. Department efforts included waterfowl surveys, the 2021 proclamation, and (among many other things) an initiative, in collaboration with BHA, to educate hunters and non-hunters in the wildland-urban interface of the Sandia Mountains to address public concerns during the January bow hunt.
Discussion during this segment was ratcheted way down from the last Commission meeting. An effort, we assume, to limit any accidental violations of the Opens Meeting Act; as happened in December with the EPLUS discussion.
Finance Committee (Salazar-Henry, Vesbach, Bates) – Commissioner Salazar-Henry provided very brief comments on the efforts of the Finance Committee to research and understand the Game and Fish Bond Act. The Committee will also be meeting next week to discuss license fee structure. She was quick to add that any changes would include a robust public input process.
Hunt Structure Committee (Vesbach, Salazar-Henry, Soules) – Commissioner Vesbach backpedaled aggressively on his EPLUS criticism from the last Commission meeting stating there is “a little confusion with the public that we were pursuing a proposal, which we are not”. However, he failed to mention that it was in-fact his buddy Senator Heinrich who opened Pandora’s box back in December. Regardless, any wind in the sails of the anti-EPLUS movement seems to have been calmed for now, at least at the Commissioner level (we will soon see if the Legislature brings any unwelcome surprises). Thank you, to all of you who made calls, sent letters, and sent emails to the Commissioners over the past month. Your voices have clearly been heard!
While Commissioner Vesbach did his best to appear unbiased against EPLUS he also continued to attempt to create the misperception that the EPLUS rule is somehow tied to the 4yr Big Game Rule stating, “we remain 2 years ahead of adopting a new big game rule…and we do hope to look into ways to improve resident opportunity”. Please note: the EPLUS Rule is a PERMANENT rule. It does not open every 4 years in conjunction with the Big Game Rule as Commissioner Vesbach continues to insinuate. If the EPLUS Rule opens it will be because the Commission requests the Rule to be opened.
Customer Feedback Committee (Cramer, Lopez) – Commissioner Cramer gave a very brief update on the Committee’s efforts to maintain and improve customer feedback efforts.
APPROVAL OF THE PUBLIC LAND USER STAMP (HABITAT STAMP PROGRAM)
Department Wildlife Chief, Stewart Liley, provided a final updated presentation regarding the Dept.’s proposed changes to the Habitat Stamp program. Under authority of the Sikes Act, the purpose of the New Mexico Habitat Stamp Program is to plan, develop, maintain, and coordinate conservation and rehabilitation programs that are designed to have a positive impact on wildlife and fish populations. Funding from this program is used to improve and restore habitat on US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, with an emphasis on improving sportsmen opportunities for hunting, fishing, and trapping. The program is directed by the cooperative efforts of the NMDGF, USFS, BLM and the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) which provide input and advice on project submissions, planning documents, and program direction.
Proposed changes to the current rule include a reauthorization of the Rule for an additional ten years, creating a single Citizen Advisory Committees (rather than the current 5), increasing the stamp price from $5 to $10 and allowing for future increases to be adjusted according to the Consumer Price Index (the Commission has some control over CPI fee adjustments but cannot defer an adjustment for more than 5 years in a row), requiring that at least 50% of the HSP funds over a 5-year period be spent on projects that benefit fish, and the removal of redundancies in the planning process.
Rule changes would be effective April 1st. Because the current rule does not expire until March 31st any individual who applies for a hunt before April 1st will pay the $5 fee. Any applications after that date will pay the increased $10 fee.
The Commission voted 6 to 1 to approve the Rule changes. Commissioner Cramer voted against the motion and explained that while she supports that program overall (and many of the amendments), she does not support an increase in the Habitat Stamp fee and therefore could not vote in favor of the Rule change.
APPORVAL OF THE IMPORTATION OF LIVE NONDOMESTIC ANIMALS, BIRDS AND FISH RULE
Department Fisheries Chief, Kirk Patton, provided a final updated presentation on the Dept.’s proposed changes to the Importation of Nondomestic Animals Rule. The Rule sets regulatory requirements for the importation of live non-domestic animals, birds, and fish into New Mexico to protect native wildlife against contagious or infectious disease, undesirable species, and to protect human health and safety. To meet that purpose, the rule prohibits the importation of any live non-domesticated animal into New Mexico without first obtaining a permit. The Dept. is proposing to change the Rule as follows:
The NM Farm and Livestock Bureau made some very well drafted comments in opposition to the Rule changes as they relate to the importation of carnivores. As a result of this comment (and similar comments from landowners across the state and especially in wolf country) the Commission, shockingly, voted 4:3 to disapprove the Rule changes.
This vote resulted in an eruption of chaotic and frantic discussion among the Director and the Commissioners regarding the unintended consequences of disapproving the Rule. There was an obvious lack of understanding between the Dept. and the Commissioners as to the importance of approving the Rule changes and Wildlife Chief, Stewart Liley was called in to explain the repercussions of not approving the Rule as it relates to Mexican wolf recovery efforts. The Commission then repealed their previous vote and then re-voted (4:2) to APPROVE the Rule changes as is, with Commissioner Lopez abstaining from the final vote and Chairwoman Salazar-Hickey changing her original vote from No to Yes stating “it appears the harm is going to outweigh the issues I had originally recognized”.
Attempting to slide this Rule change under the radar by masking it as a fisheries issue rather than what it is (which is a wolf issue) was a giant misstep by the Department and reflected very poorly on the Commission. The botched Rule disapproval, confusion, and subsequent approval was a black eye on the Rule making process. There is absolutely no reason that this issue should not have been thoroughly discussed and understood in previous Commission meetings.
APPOINTMENT OF THE CITIZEN ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEMBERS
The Commission discussed the appointment of members to the new Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) for the Habitat Stamp program. The Director explained the application and selection process for CAC members. The Dept. submitted 9 names to the Commission for approval. The Commission chose to approve 7 of the recommended names and inserted 2 names of their own. While it is in the Commission’s ability to make this change, it really did seem, to those of us attending the meeting, that the selection was a bit of a game of politics. And despite the Commissions repeated claims of transparency, the selection of CAC members appeared about as clear as mud. Below is the approved list of appointed CAC members:
ODDS & ENDS
Assistant Attorney General Valerie Joe provided a brief overview of the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. The Commission is required to adopt a procedure for providing public notice annually. The Commission adopted the resolution unanimously. The Commission approved their “consent agenda” which included of approval of the Least Shrew recovery plan, License Revocations, and the recognition of Weapons4Warriors as a donation qualified non-profit. In Executive Session the Commission voted to allow the Department to pursue a conservation easement on a property in Valencia County and purchase a property in Catron County.
Next Commission Meeting – April 1, 2021 (Virtual)
COMMISSIONER CONTACT INFORMATION
(You're 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
Appointed At-large – Agricultural Position