Friday August 25, 2023
All Commissioners were present:
Attending in-person: Commissioners Tirzio Lopez (Vice Chair), Sharon Salazar-Hickey, Fernando Clemente, Ed Garcia
Attending Virtually: Commissioner Greg Fulfer
(The remaining two seats on the seven member commission have not yet been filled)
The meeting began shortly after 9 a.m. with a Commission roll call. Unlike usual, all staff and public attending were not asked to introduce themselves, perhaps to save time since attendance was larger than usual. There were approximately 60 members of the public present; approximately as many participated virtually during the meeting. Minutes of the July 21, 2023 meeting were approved without change, and proposed revocations were approved.
A period of “general public comment” was initiated by the Vice-Chair. Several were made both in-person and virtually, most of which were actually comments on the item to follow on the Bear and Cougar Rule; the distinction was not clear to some without experience in these meetings. Comments during this period included members of the ranching/cattle industry and the outfitter/guide groups, all concerned about current increases in predation, and therefore supporting the recommended changes to the Rule. Several were opponents to bear and cougar hunting or to the proposed minor increases in tags. A number of statements opposed to the rule were made by members of the public asking why bears and cougars are hunted at all (based on personal values and sentiments), and assertions that the data being used were not reliable, or that the data used by the NMDGF are not peer-reviewed. (The last reflecting a lack of understanding of the use of the “term peer-reviewed.” During the Department’s presentation on the rule changes, Chief Stewart Lily indicated that the methods used by the NMDGF are consistent with the related scientific research that has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and therefore the Department has utilized a peer-reviewed approach to formulating the changes (NMBHA has verified that this is true.) The New Mexico Wildlife Federation gave a comment supporting the rule in part due to its science-based approach.
The next item on the agenda was a presentation by Chief Stewart Lily, in which he discussed how the proposed rule had been developed, clarifying some issues raised in the earlier public comments. Chief Lily also reported that the number of public comments related to the Rule as presented included 1560 in support compared to 711 against. Much of the related content in the Rule is included in the following materials developed by the NMDGF:
A number of additional comments on the Rule were made following the Department’s presentation - both for and against, in-person and online. This item concluded with a powerful statement by Commissioner Clemente, supported by Commissioner Salazar-Hickey, emphasizing that such decisions should be grounded in ecological analysis, and acknowledging that conservation required predators for a healthy ecosystem and recognized their role in improving the health and sustainable populations of prey animals. Further, Commissioner Clemente recognized the role of humans to ensure predators continued health which is essential to sustain and improve implementation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. A final vote on the rule will be included in a future meeting of the Commission; at the end of this item, however, it appeared that all Commissioners indicated support for the Rule as submitted and scheduling a final vote.
The next agenda item was a “subsequent discussion” on the Furbearers Rule, including that the Rule would become permanent, meaning that changes would only be considered should the NMDGF or the Commission decide that changes might be required since the rates of all species tracked have been very stable. The NMDGF accepted the request by Commissioner Clemente that an annual report would be prepared and shared with the Commission and public to assist in determining whether a possible change might be required. Four positive public comments were made about the permanent arrangement, and one opposing comment representing the Sierra club argued that trapping overall should be eliminated.
An initial discussion of possible changes in the Hunter Education Rule followed. Changes being considered related to in-state youth who complete Hunter Education online in different states, particularly related to those under age 10 (one case involved a three-year-old taking a hunter education course). This will be discussed in a future meeting after additional information is viewed (the discussion recognized that the issue may actually only affect a relatively low number of cases). After more data are collected, the issue will be raised at a later date.
Several following items were handled relatively quickly. The first was an initial discussion of the preparations for the next four-year State Wildlife Action Plan due to be submitted to the federal government in October of 2025. Chief Varela provided a review of the Financial Overview and current budget request for the NMDGF. Acceptance and submission of the proposed current request passed by a vote of four in favor, and one opposed. Vice-Chair Lopez voted against approval as he felt that members of the Commission should receive the final request more than one week in advance (as was the case here) to be able to examine it carefully. Chief Patten presented a revision to the Fisheries Rule proposing to expand free fishing days from two free days a year to two free weekends (four total days). This item was passed without dissent. Also, the Commission considered a pheasant hunting/shooting reserve application from “Caprock Roosters.” The Department gave a presentation on the application where it expressed its opinion that it had not identified any basis to deny the application. After some discussion, the Commission approved the application.
The final item open to the public was a discussion of the New Mexico legislature’s Water and Natural Resources Interim Legislative Committee hearing on the stream access issue in light of the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision in Adobe Whitewater v. State Game Commission. There is not yet a clear path to enforcement of the Adobe Whitewater decision which declared all state waters (excluding tribal lands) open to recreational use. While the Supreme Court’s ruling clearly states that the public has the right to “reasonable use” of public waters flowing over private property, the Court’s opinion also held that, “the scope of the public’s easement includes only such use as is reasonably necessary to the utilization of the water itself and any use of the beds and banks must be of minimal impact.” Due to ambiguity between the Court’s ruling and existing legal interpretations, enforcement mechanisms have not yet been developed. There appears to be substantial resistance by landowners (primarily ranchers and resorts). The conservation officers and NMDGF leadership are concerned that neither onsite negotiations nor removal of barriers falls within either the mission or training of conservation officers or the NMDGF. The NMDGF’s position is that the Department does not possess the statutory authority to remove fencing, and such authority would need to be legislatively enacted into statute granting the Department that authority. Specific next steps forward have not yet been identified, and continued advocacy will almost certainly be required to advance beyond the current situation.
Following this difficult discussion, the Commission moved into an Executive Session to deliberate and act on issues of purchase, acquisition, or disposal of land or resources, and a number of pending litigations. We were not present for related votes, which will be posted on the NDGF website and in the minutes of this meeting.
New Mexico BHA has attended all meeting of the New Mexico State Game Commission in 2023. We are committed to staying engaged and encourage our members and supporters to attend meeting in-person of virtually whenever possible. Stay tuned to our newsletter. If you are not a member, sign-up for Mailing List Here.