Unlike most state agencies, which are taking substantial cuts in this year of declining revenues, the Department of Game and Fish budget should see no change for the coming year. Meeting online, the State Game Commission on Thursday approved a spending plan of $41.9 million for the coming year, though the Legislature still must authorize that amount.
The commission also approved new dates and harvest limits for the upcoming migratory bird seasons and minor changes in some GMU boundaries. They spent the rest of their eight-hour meeting discussing a range of issues, from the Habitat Stamp program to endangered species, but took no other votes. They did go into executive session to discuss legal matters and said afterward that they would hold a special meeting in the next few weeks – Chairwoman Sharon Salazar Hickey did not say what the topic might be.
Hunter education was perhaps the hottest topic of the meeting. NMDGF wants to expand the Mentored Youth Hunt program by allowing kids as young as 8 to hunt alongside an adult, and to include pronghorn among the species they would be allowed to hunt. Judging by commissioners’ questions and comments, support for the changes appeared to be about 50/50. Several commissioners said they had no qualms with the proposal, but others voiced concern whether the changes would meet the stated goal of developing more license-buying hunters over the long run. There were also questions about whether the kids’ mentors were reliable instructors and what effect the current program has had on license sales. The proposal is not yet open for public comment but NM BHA is following it closely and will keep our members informed.
The Habitat Stamp program is also eyed for major changes that NMDGF says should provide more funding for larger, landscape-scale habitat projects. The current program, which is funded by the $5 stamp every hunter/angler must buy if they plan to use federal public lands, divides New Mexico into five regions, each with its own Citizen Advisory Committee to discuss habitat projects. NMDGF wants to reduce that to three regions, which would provide more revenue to each region. Commissioner Jeremy Vesbach noted that the stamp fee has not changed in decades and asked about raising the fee once the Covid-19 economic troubles dissipate. Public hearings on the plan are expected this fall with final approval early next year.
The commission also started working on revisions to wildlife importation rules. NMDGF must approve the importation of various species for everything from pet store fish to kokanee salmon to black-footed ferrets on the endangered species list. The current proposal will mainly clean up importation rules that are approved by NMDGF staff, with one exception: also on the table is a rule approved several years ago that required the commission itself to approve the importation of carnivores, rather than leaving the approval up to the Director of Game and Fish. The proposal will go through the usual public process, with public testimony accepted this fall and final approval expected at a later date.
The next meeting is set for Oct. 16, and will either be another virtual meeting or held in Taos.