New Mexico is fortunate to be the home of numerous and diverse wildlife species. The state agency tasked with protecting New Mexico’s wildlife, the N.M. Game and Fish department, is, however, focused on making sure that a few selected game species are available for hunters.
This emphasis on elk and deer is at the expense of other species, especially apex predators, such as bears, mountain lions and wolves.
This is driven in part by the department being funded through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses rather than from the state’s general fund.
Only 4 percent of New Mexicans are hunters. Accordingly, the other 96 percent have little say in department policies.
An example of this lack of input is that the department encourages children to take up trapping, which often results in animals, some domestic, suffering in steel leg traps for days.
The department also does not oppose animal killing contests, but does oppose the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf. Numerous polls have shown overwhelming support by New Mexicans for wolf reintroduction and against trapping.
The department is overseen by a seven-member politically appointed commission with no expertise in scientific wildlife management. All members are hunters, and most have ties to ranching, and oil and gas corporations, as well as extreme right wing organizations.
The previous chairman, rancher Scott Bidegain, was charged with illegal hunting and forced to resign. He and other commissioners have also been involved in animal killing contests.
All this points to a commission and department that are completely out of touch with the values of most New Mexicans!
So what can be done to bring wildlife management into the 21st century? First, the manner in which the department is funded must change. Revenue from the sale of licenses should go into the general fund and department funding should become a part of the regular budget process.
To increase revenue, an outdoor recreation fee on the sale of outdoor gear and equipment should be established by the Legislature. This would help put the interests of the 96 percent of New Mexicans who do not hunt on par with the 4 percent who do.
Next, the makeup of the commission must be changed to reflect the values of all New Mexicans.
By law, the commission should be required to have members that represent conservation, non-game species, scientific wildlife management and the environment, as well as hunting and fishing.
Politics has no place in wildlife management.
Making these changes will not be easy. Nevertheless, now is the time to start the conversation on how best to bring wildlife management into the 21st century.