Game Department will not protect wildlife

Some wildlife trapping in New Mexico will be technically illegal as of April 1. But it will be up to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) to enforce the new state law, known as Roxy’s Law in memory of the dog who suffered a cruel death at the hands of a trapper. NMDGF, which opposed the passage of Roxy’s Law, “lost” the evidence needed to convict Roxy’s killer. There is no reason to think that the department is willing or able to enforce the new trapping restrictions.

As John Crenshaw acknowledged in his “My View” in the February 28 Santa Fe New Mexican, the public has come to realize that “the game department and commission form an exclusive hook ‘n bullet club.” The governor has the power to change the makeup of the State Game Commission, which is supposed to oversee NMDGF, by appointing commissioners representing the vast majority of New Mexicans who do not hunt or trap. Unfortunately, a few days after Crenshaw’s column was published, the governor decided to follow her predecessor’s example appointing a representative of the oil and gas industry to fill the commissioner position reserved for an environmentalist.

When the new game commissioner introduced herself to the State Game Commission, Crenshaw, who serves as president of the board of New Mexico Wildlife Federation, told the commission that his group welcomes her appointment. This should not be surprising from a group that traces its origins to Aldo Leopold, who worked to extirpate wolves and mountain lions from New Mexico. Only late in life did Leopold, in his autobiographical fantasy “Think Like a Mountain,” popularize the idea of ethical wildlife killing.

Although game departments have recently received record revenues from the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, which taxes guns and ammunition purchased for any purpose, the departments still worry about their long-term funding as the popularity of hunting decreases. In an effort to slow the decline in the number of hunters, game managers have portrayed hunters as conservationists.

New Mexico’s Senator Martin Heinrich has been working on a bipartisan federal bailout of state game departments. Heinrich’s RAWA, officially known as the ‘‘Recovering America’s Wildlife Act,” is more aptly described as “Replenishing America’s Wildlife Agencies.” RAWA would provide funding from federal taxpayers as well as matching funds from states. NMGDF Director Mike Sloane estimates that to qualify for federal funding, New Mexico would have to come up $9 million in state matching funds.

RAWA would allow state game departments to determine which threatened and endangered species deserve protection. The recent wolf killings in states in the Yellowstone region show what happens when state agencies are left in control of protecting wildlife.

The oil and gas industry pays a severance tax to the state to mitigate their damage to the environment. Money paid by hunters and trappers should also be regarded as a severance tax owed for reducing the value of a natural resource, not as a user fee entitling them to special privileges. There is no reason for taxpayers to subsidize a department which operates on behalf of hunters and trappers.

Wildlife populations are estimated to have declined by two-thirds since 1970. The climate crisis is well underway. But with a few exceptions such as Roxy’s law, state game laws have barely changed since they were established by Aldo Leopold’s Game Protective Association in the 1920s. The Game Department, which has no meaningful oversight, has little interest in protecting endangered species or wildlife in general. We need to replace the Game Department with a department interested in protecting wildlife. We need to abolish the Game Commission.