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New player joins New Mexico political scene

SANTA FE – There’s a new player on New Mexico’s political scene: an organization started by a ranch-owning oil-and-gas lawyer that gave nearly $50,000 last month to various Republican state political committees.

The New Mexico Habitat Conservation Initiative was formed recently by Dan C. Perry, a lawyer who relocated from Texas to Santa Fe and owns Trout Stalker Ranch, a fly-fishing and hunting operation just south of Chama along the Rio Chama and Rio Chamita.

He was active in the successful effort by ranchers and others during the 2015 legislative session to get a bill passed, and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, that bars the public from walking or wading in streams that run through private property without written permission.

It was narrowly approved – passing the House by just a single vote – and Perry wants to make sure it doesn’t get undone in the Legislature.

“We want to maintain that law. That’s one reason we set up the initiative,” he told the Journal on Wednesday.

Protecting private property rights and promoting conservation stewardship will be major focuses of the Habitat Conservation Initiative, he said.

There is no other specific legislation on the horizon that the group is interested in, “but we’re prepared to address issues if they come up,” said lawyer Marco Gonzales, the lobbyist for Trout Stalker Ranch.

Habitat Conservation Initiative made its first political contributions in May, giving $10,800 to each of four Republican-affiliated political action committees and $5,000 to the campaign of House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, who is spearheading the effort to get Republicans elected in November and keep the GOP’s hold on the House.

The amounts were the maximum allowable for the 2016 election cycle.

The organization is currently registered with the Secretary of State’s Office as a nonprofit corporation, and is filing with the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status, which would allow it to engage in some political activity.

Although its first round of contributions went to Republicans, the group also intends to contribute to Democrats, according to Perry and Gonzales.

“We want to support those legislators who support us,” Perry said. No House Democrats voted for the 2015 legislation, but it was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Richard Martinez of Española, and 15 Senate Democrats voted for it.

The bill’s backers argued that allowing public access to streams on private property could disturb or destroy riparian habitat improvements that landowners had made significant investments in. Opponents objected that the bill was vague and perhaps unconstitutional, that courts should decide the critical question of whether streambeds are public, and that the bill was part of a broader assault on public resources.

Perry – who also made modest personal contributions this year to Democratic candidates for district attorney and state representative in Santa Fe-area races – represents mineral owners in negotiating their oil, gas and uranium leases, and then audits royalty payments and tracks the performance of the lease covenants.