Governor removes member from state Game Commission - Albuquerque Journal

Governor removes member from state Game Commission

A broken fence along the Brazos River in Rio Arriba County. The issue of non-navigable waterways and stream access has resurfaced after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham removed Jeremy Vesbach from the state Game Commission this week. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham removed a member of the New Mexico Game Commission this week, the latest change for a board wading through a water access controversy.

Jeremy Vesbach said he was not given a reason for his removal. But he said his positions on stream access and hunting licenses for public land clash with landowners who contributed to the governor’s election campaign.

“I’ll keep pushing for the same things I believe in, and I hold out hope that the governor will take the right stand about access to public water and public lands,” Vesbach told the Journal.

Jeremy Vesbach, former state Game Commissioner and western lands program director for Western Resource Advocates (Courtesy of Western Resource Advocates)

A spokeswoman for the governor denied that the removal was spurred by Vesbach’s position on stream access.

Last year, Vesbach and the commission rejected five applications to certify waterway segments on private property as nonnavigable.

Vesbach said “denying access” to rivers and streams violates constitutional rights, and that fences in waterways which flow through private property are hazards.

“There’s just this incredible push to privatize hunting and fishing access to our public land and public water,” he said. “Our public lands are this amazing heritage, and we need to preserve equal access to them.”

Oral arguments are set for March 1 in a state Supreme Court case brought by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and other groups seeking to overturn the nonnavigable rule.

Legal appeals from landowners seeking waterway certifications have been filed in lower courts.

Vesbach is the western lands program director for Western Resource Advocates. His commission term was set to expire at the end of this year.

A letter from Lujan Grisham to Vesbach notified him Tuesday of the early exit.

“I have chosen to exercise my authority under Article V, Section 5 of the New Mexico Constitution to remove you from your Governor-appointed position on the State Game Commission,” Lujan Grisham wrote. “… I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your service on the State Game Commission.”

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett disputed the suggestion that stream access was a motive in the decision.

“The commissioners are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor – while there was ultimately a disagreement of mission, we respect and appreciate Mr. Vesbach’s dedicated years of service and advocacy,” Sackett said in an email. “To be clear, Mr. Vesbach’s removal was wholly unrelated to any matters of stream access. We anticipate completing the commission shortly.”

Vesbach’s ousting leaves three vacancies on the seven-member body.

David Soules died in March 2021. Gail Cramer resigned in June 2021.

Lujan Grisham notified Joanna Prukop in 2020 that her term would not be renewed. The governor’s office cited “policy and style” differences.

Prukop said she believes her position against the nonnavigable waterway rule was the reason.

“In my opinion, Joanna was the most knowledgeable, qualified chair in the history of the Game Commission, and once she was removed it certainly wasn’t a surprise that I would follow,” Vesbach said.

The governor tapped Los Alamos National Laboratory employee Sharon Salazar Hickey for Prukop’s seat.

Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, said that she couldn’t comment specifically on Vesbach’s removal. But she “appreciates (the governor) really trying to balance needs of different stakeholders.”

“We believe that the rules and regulations governing stream access in New Mexico have worked for decades and should remain in place as a nice balance of public rights and private rights,” Allison said.

The state should better support land managers in their efforts to protect wildlife habitat and restore watersheds, Allison said.

Vesbach was the New Mexico Wildlife Federation director for more than a decade. The organization called his removal “a deep blow to our state.”

“This move by the governor underscores again the need for real reform to insulate commissioners from undue political influence,” NMWF Executive Director Jesse Deubel said.

The commission will meet Friday at 9 a.m. in Santa Fe. Stream access legal cases will be discussed in executive session.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

 


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
Former lobbyist finds new calling in cannabis
ABQnews Seeker
Albuquerque man gives up $90,000 salary ... Albuquerque man gives up $90,000 salary for local budding industry
2
Are 4-day work weeks feasible? Business leaders weigh in
ABQnews Seeker
The concept and feasibility of four-day ... The concept and feasibility of four-day work weeks has been discussed in recent weeks, but it' ...
3
New Mexico front and center in nationwide debate over ...
ABQnews Seeker
Taken together, two forthcoming bills would ... Taken together, two forthcoming bills would create a suite of government-funded incentives to help companies construct everything from hydrogen production and hydrogen-based electric generation ...
4
IRS needs auditing power to close the ‘tax gap’
ABQnews Seeker
Courts have blocked Treasury from overseeing ... Courts have blocked Treasury from overseeing returns
5
Vintage meets sustainable at new Albuquerque boutique
ABQnews Seeker
Owner Vanessa Dagavarian said she started ... Owner Vanessa Dagavarian said she started thrifting vintage clothing as a teenager, but the idea to open her own vintage store didn't come to ...
6
At 470 killed, traffic deaths return to the bad ...
ABQnews Seeker
Pedestrian death tally reached 99, breaking ... Pedestrian death tally reached 99, breaking record set back in '94
7
Natural resource agencies request funding boosts
ABQnews Seeker
Climate change bureau would tackle emissions Climate change bureau would tackle emissions
8
University of Va. holds largest collection of cartoonist's art
ABQnews Seeker
School's library gifted almost 7,000 pieces ... School's library gifted almost 7,000 pieces of artist's works
9
Justice, sort of, is coming after deadly crash
ABQnews Seeker
Woman expected to accept plea agreement ... Woman expected to accept plea agreement over tragic incident