Former Game Commission chairwoman speaks out - Albuquerque Journal

Former Game Commission chairwoman speaks out

Joanna Prukop

The former chair of the New Mexico State Game Commission is pointing to a water access controversy and influence of political donors as reasons for her ousting.

Joanna Prukop was named the commission’s first female chair in June and her term expired at the end of December. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office informed her this week that she would not be reappointed.

Prukop told the Journal on Friday that she has yet to receive an official reason for the governor’s move, but said political differences regarding a controversial non-navigable waters rule led to the decision.

“I’m still reeling from not being reappointed,” she said. “There’s so much work to be done. I have been offered new employment, but I’m taking a breather for a while.”

Governor spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said previously that the state appreciates Prukop’s service, and that “policy and style” differences, not political controversy, influenced the choice.

The non-navigable waters rule was implemented in 2017 under the previous Game Commission. The rule lets landowners restrict public access to waterways flowing through private land. The certification process, which has been used to approve five applications, is rooted in a 2015 state law.

Both Prukop and Joel Gay, chairman of the state chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said Prukop’s removal from the Game Commission may have been influenced by political donations. Santa Fe lawyer Dan Perry, who runs the PAC Habitat Conservation Initiative, lobbied for the 2015 non-navigable waters law and has donated to political candidates on both sides of the aisle. Perry has also certified parts of his trout fishing property on the Rio Chama as non-navigable.

Earlier this year, the Game Commission released a legal opinion about the rule, written by Assistant State Attorney General John Grubesic. The opinion says the rule cannot be used to ban the public from wading or recreating in streams on private property, as long as the waterways can be accessed without trespassing.

The commission used that legal guidance as the basis for a November vote to amend or repeal the rule, to the delight of New Mexico’s congressional delegation.

But many landowners said the rule protects private property and natural resources. That conflict means the rule is “probably headed to court,” according to Prukop.

“The governor wants a win-win on this stream access rule, but that’s difficult when dealing with a rule that is unconstitutional,” she said. “This is a bad rule based on bad law, and it’s my opinion that the present non-navigable certifications should not stand.”

In her 25 years at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Prukop worked as a public affairs officer and was the department’s first female division chief. In 2002, she retired from Game and Fish and went to work in Washington, D.C., for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Four months later, she returned to New Mexico as secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department under then-Gov. Bill Richardson.

The Game Commission will meet on Jan. 17 in Las Cruces. On the agenda is the selection of a chair and vice-chair, and the adoption of a new Trapping and Furbearers Rule.

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