New Mexico conservationists, wildlife watchers, outfitters, hunters and anglers agree: Before us lies a great opportunity to better the management of one of New Mexico’s most precious assets. Our state’s wildlife is an incredible cultural and economic blessing. As the fifth-most biodiverse state we live amid an amazing array of ecosystems.
House Bill 184, sponsored by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe, would improve the New Mexico Game Commission, the appointed body that oversees the Department of Game and Fish. The legislation, which has made it to the Senate Floor, would help create a commission that represents all New Mexicans and insulates wildlife policy decisions from political whims and financial influence.
In short, HB 184 would create stability on the commission by protecting commissioners from being fired except in extreme circumstances. It would grant about half of commission appointments to a bipartisan group of legislators in order to decentralize power. Commissioners would come from different counties and Congressional districts to ensure widespread geographic representation. And, for the first time, a bona fide wildlife conservation representative, a sportsperson and a wildlife scientist would each have a seat on the commission. The requirement for an agricultural representative would remain.
These common-sense fixes would increase the effectiveness of the commission and decrease the turbulence seen in years past. More importantly, it would add critical expertise and perspectives to a commission historically dominated by agriculture and hunting interests, a benefit to all New Mexicans and the state’s wildlife.
New Mexican values toward wildlife are shifting; more and more New Mexicans believe wildlife is part of our social network. The climate crisis, habitat loss and wildfires are just a few of the immediate issues wildlife face. Diverse perspectives and scientific acumen on the commission would better position New Mexico to face those challenges.
During its first legislative hearing, HB 184 received support from hunters, anglers, outfitters, animal advocates and conservationists. When that spectrum of interests agrees on something, you know the proposal is meaningful, focuses on real and necessary change, and provides benefits across the ideological spectrum.
The Game Commission has struggled in recent years. It has often been unresponsive to the New Mexico public. A rotating roster of commissioners has been unable to confront and solve controversial issues like stream access, trapping and wildlife killing contests. This is in part due to frequent turnover.
Commissioners can be fired without cause. Some commissioners have resigned due to dysfunction and political pressure. The first commission meeting of the year was canceled due to not having a quorum available. The commission hasn’t been full since March of 2021 when Commissioner David Soules tragically passed away. Yet I personally know of well-qualified applicants who have been eligible and eager to serve for years.
Some commission appointees have had tenuous ties to New Mexico’s wildlife but obvious connections to politicians and money. The current conservation representative is an oil and gas lobbyist. There hasn’t been a scientist on the commission since Soules, who was a mechanical engineer. In general, scientists have been exceedingly rare. And, to top it all off, the N.M. Senate has not confirmed a commissioner for years, even though every commissioner is supposed to go through a confirmation process.
That’s all bad news for New Mexico and its wildlife. The good news is that a fix is on the table.