Historic range is climate change denial
The annual report of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish acknowledges that their operations depend on “the combined support of hunters, trappers and anglers.” Together with the State Game Commission, they have opposed trapping restrictions. For years they opposed Mexican wolf reintroduction, but now they participate in the program to restrict wolves to to a limited experimental area.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service, currently run by a former director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, regards Mexican wolves as a scientific experiment. How is this science? The boundaries of the experimental area are based on an outdated concept of “historic range” which denies the reality of wildlife migrations in a time of climate change and drought.
Captive Mexican wolves have proven their ability to survive in the wild. It is time to let them roam free beyond the experimental boundaries. They will not fully recover from artificial inbreeding until they can reach wild wolves in Colorado.
With dedicated funding from the state Game Protection Fund as a “guaranty to the person who pays for hunting and fishing licenses,” it is hardly surprising that game managers have little interest or understanding of endangered species and other so-called nongame wildlife. As Upton Sinclair stated, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
The New Mexico state legislature is considering bills which would would make minor changes to the structure of the Game Commission and Game Department. HB184 would reserve a spot on the Game Commission for a token “scientist who holds at least a master’s degree from an accredited college or university in wildlife biology, conservation biology, fisheries science or management, wildlife science or management or a comparable wildlife field.” This definition of scientist includes game managers but not ecologists or climatologists.
HB183 would reduce the Game Commission to an advisory role and put game managers under the jurisdiction of the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD). These measures could provide some needed oversight, but they do not change either the mission or the funding of the Game Department.
Follow the money
Wildlife funding should follow the example of the EMNRD oil conservation division. Hunting and trapping license fees should be viewed not as a user fee entitling them to special privileges, but as a severance tax which they owe to compensate the public for the loss of wildlife. Rather than remaining an independent agency, the Game Department could be merged into the EMNRD State Parks division, which already already has responsibility for wildlife-watching areas, to create a Wildlife and Parks Division. The primary responsibility of this division would be protection of animals and plants, not promoting hunting and trapping.
At a time of rising gun violence, the Game Department is trying to protect its funding by encouraging a new generation to take up arms to kill wildlife. But license fees are not the department’s only source of income. The department’s real estate transactions have been in the news lately. A more significant source of funds comes from the Pittman-Robertson federal excise tax on guns and ammunition, which are mostly purchased for self-defense rather than hunting.
Nationally Wildlife Restoration and Hunter Education funding increased by 64.26% ($436,263,525) from $678,894,449 in 2021 to $1,115,157,974 in 2022. In 2021, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish received $14 million, about a third of its operating revenue, from the federal government, mostly the excise tax. As gun and ammunition sales have increased, the 2022 allocation is over $22 million.
The majority of the population does not hunt. US Fish and Wildlife compilation of state data data shows about 6% of the population are licensed hunters. Polling data such as Pew & Marist, estimate the proportion hunters at about twice that, still a minority.
Wildlife conservation should not depend on game managers who answer to a dwindling number of hunter and trappers, many of whom come from out of state. Century-old water and wildlife laws need to change to reflect the current reality of climate change, drought, and mass extinction.