A crisp dawn, antlers in the shape of half-tame lightning, a bugle that cuts through the faint hum of morning; these are the things that come to mind for me and many New Mexicans when we think of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF). There’s a reason for this. Since it was founded, hunting and fishing have defined the Department’s mission, and continues to do so today, often to the detriment of wildlife protection.
More than half of the NMDGF’s annual budget comes from selling hunting and fishing licenses. Most of its resources are dedicated to the protection, restoration, and cultivation of game species. It has only been since 2014 and the passage of the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act (WCA) that the Department has been tasked with protecting and monitoring threatened and endangered species as well. It is an agency in serious need of reform.
Now, thanks to the creation of the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund and the opportunity to invest in conservation in the upcoming legislative session, we can start to do just that. By providing recurring funding to the NMDGF for the protection and conservation of all species, we could begin to ensure that New Mexico has a balanced approach to wildlife preservation – an approach that addresses the concerns of all wildlife enthusiasts, birders, hunters, photographers, anglers, and more. More work is certainly needed, but this is a critical first step.
An increase in hunting and fishing license fees would mean even more ability for the NMDGF to invest in protection and restoration. It has been 20 years since New Mexico last increased its licensing fees and, as a result, we have lagged behind our neighboring states in conservation investments. With a minimal increase in fees for residents, we can keep prices reasonable for our hunters and anglers while ensuring the continued health, longevity, and conservation of all our precious wildlife.
Finally, the State Game Commission needs modernization, too. Many of the recurring problems, including commissioner diversity and retention, could be addressed by establishing qualifications, a nomination process, and a means for removal. There are a wide range of New Mexicans with the technical and practical wildlife experience to complement this position – individuals with a background and passion in wildlife restoration, protection, and management. By centering game commission reform on modernization and diversity, we can bring these principles into the NMDGF, and better serve wildlife and all New Mexicans.