Waterfowl hunters in the Rio Grande Valley lost a small but important hunting area this week after the State Land Office (SLO) closed it to public access – perhaps in violation of the SLO lease with the Department of Game and Fish. New Mexico Backcountry Hunters & Anglers tried to head off the closure, sending a letter to the SLO and NMDGF asking that any decision include input from affected hunters. Unfortunately, State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard made the decision on her own, based on complaints from neighbors in the area.
The land in question is a 200+ acre parcel in Albuquerque’s South Valley. As with all State Trust Lands that aren’t specifically exempted, this parcel was open to hunting and fishing by licensed sportsmen and women. It stretches along a mile of the Rio Grande just north of the I-25 crossing. Hunters have used it sporadically over the years, hunting pheasant and waterfowl. Access to the area improved after creation of the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, which is adjacent to the SLO to the northeast. A new bridge was installed over the drainage canal, enabling quick access to the Rio Grande. With that improved access, more hunters started using the State Trust Land.
When waterfowl season opened in October, a handful of residents on the east side of the drainage ditches and hikers began to complain. Unlike licensed hunters who are legally accessing the state land tract, many of the non-hunters do not possess a State Land Recreation permit and are using the area illegally. Five representatives of NM BHA toured the site on Saturday, Nov. 23, accompanied by several NMDGF conservation officers. Using range finders, we calculated the distance between the river and the nearest houses at a quarter-mile or more, with thick brush and cottonwood trees in between. We agreed with the conservation officers that waterfowlers’ shotguns – aimed primarily over the water and away from any houses – did not pose a threat to neighbors’ safety.
NM BHA's feels strongly that commonsense efforts could further promote the safe and legal use of the SLO land. For instance, the SLO could install signs to inform the public that waterfowl hunting in that small parcel is both legal and safe. On Tuesday morning, NM BHA sent a letter (link below) to the State Land Office, NMDGF and the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge manager.
Shortly after receiving our letter, the SLO sent NMDGF a letter (link below) saying the area would be closed starting the following day - Wednesday, Nov. 26.
NM BHA immediately contacted the SLO and expressed our disappointment that the Commissioner had made her decision without input from hunters, including the Sportspeople’s Advisory Committee that she appointed earlier in the year – (NM BHA has two representatives on the committee). We were informed that she made the decision based on the complaints received from neighbors of the area, along with discussions with NMDGF conservation officers.
Later on Tuesday, NM BHA was informed that NMDGF had voiced its own objection to the closure. The SLO and NMDGF have a signed agreement that hunting and fishing are allowed on that tract, and until the two parties sign a new contract, the site should remain open.
Hunters are caught in the middle. SLO says it’s closed, NMDGF says it’s open. New Mexico Backcountry Hunters & Anglers hopes to be part of the solution, but as of Thanksgiving Day, the status of that land was still in question.
How You Can Help
NM BHA board members will attend an open house at Valle de Oro Refuge on Thursday, Dec. 5, from 5:30 pm - 7 pm at the Mountain View Community Center (201 Prosperity Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87105) and try to explain to neighbors why we believe hunting should be allowed. The public is invited to the meeting but NM BHA is asking all hunters present to be respectful and present the best side of the hunting public.
You can also register your concerns with the SLO directly. Respectfully disagree with the Commissioner's decision to close the parcel without public input, and ask her to reconsider her decision. Click HERE to submit your comments or email State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org