It was a tough year in the Legislature this session for public land sportsmen and women, but one bill alone accounted for most of the setbacks. NMBHA strongly supported Senate Bill 312, which had four major goals and would have accomplished substantial benefits for resident hunters, in particular, but it also presented a huge target that brought out a wide array of opponents. In the end, SB312 proved to be too much
The most important aspect of the bill to NMBHA was to eliminate the 10 percent set-aside of big game licenses for clients of outfitters -- essentially a subsidy of that industry at the expense of resident and nonresident DIY hunters. Eliminating the set-aside would have given 90 percent of big game tags to residents and 10 percent to nonresidents. Outfitters would then have to compete for business rather than be guaranteed work through government intervention. By one estimate, resident hunters would have seen an additional 1,000 tags a year. Although this additional 1,000 tags don’t represent a huge percentage increase in opportunity, it would have been 1,000 more opportunities for the average New Mexican to enjoy their wildlife resource and pass hunting on to the next generation, regardless of personal means.
The bill also would have reformed the so-called Jennings Law by giving the Game Commission authority to more closely manage how landowners deal with depredation of their crops, such as requiring them to shoot depredating elk or antelope with a rifle rather than with a shotgun. There have been numerous examples of NMDGF conservation officers forced to put down elk and antelope that had been gut-shot or crippled when an unethical landowner fired randomly to scare them off – and which was legal under the Jennings Law. NMBHA will continue to support revamping this outdated law.
The bill also would have extended wanton waste laws to bear, javelina and cougar. It would have demonstrated hunters’ commitment to wise use of our resources.
And last, the bill would have renamed the Department of Game and Fish as the Department of Wildlife Conservation. That raised a red flag among some hunters who feared that it would lead to a change in the department’s mandate, also, though in fact it would not. Many other states, including Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma and Texas, have done the same thing and not lost a shred of their traditional hunting and fishing management.
While the massive bill had widespread support among many hunters and environmental groups, it drew fire from outfitters, ranchers and even some hunters. After SB312 was tabled by the Senate Conservation Committee, sponsor Sen. Jeff Steinborn brought it back for reconsideration, where it was defeated again. He then amended it to include only the Jennings Law reform and wanton waste changes. The committee approved the trimmed down bill, renamed SB419, but days later the Senate Finance Committee tabled it for good.
A ban on public lands trapping has been brewing for years, but after the November 2020 elections brought several new faces to the Legislature, the effort had newfound support. Senate Bill 32 sailed through the Senate and the House, in spite of strong opposition by trappers as well as groups like NMBHA. But the bill was narrowly approved with less than two days remaining in the session on a 35-34 vote. If the governor signs the bill, the ban would take effect April 1, 2022.
Two other pieces of legislation that would have asked New Mexico voters to amend the state Constitution and create a new “right to hunt and fish” never even made it out of their first committees. Constitutional amendment bills of any type rarely get through the Legislature, and the right to hunt and fish bills were no exception.
NMBHA will continue to fight for science-based management of our wildlife resources at the Game Commission level and during the legislative interim. Hopefully the next legislative session will be more productive for New Mexico sportsmen and women.