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Las Cruces Game Commission Report Back

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish commission went through the agenda in what seemed like record time in Las Cruces. Most items on the agenda were simply up for review and had been presented at the previous meeting. Here’s what went down:

Stewart Liley presented the revision of the endangered species rule. The 90 day comment period runs from March 15 – June 13. The final adoption will go into effect in October. The last review didn’t uplist or downlist any species. The motion to initiative a review was approved.

Agenda item 8 discussed the success of the Outdoor Expo Show in February which had more than 5,500 people in attendance. A huge congratulations to Colleen Payne who received the Commissioner’s Conservation Partnership Award for her work encouraging women to get involved in archery. Another huge congratulations to Kevin Holliday who was rewarded for his hard work at the department with the Director’s Professional of the Year award. Great job everyone!

Director Alexa Sandoval pointed out that the auction raised more than last year and the money goes towards restoration projects ongoing throughout the state.

Agenda item 9 included an update on shooting ranges. The department has found that private land purchases have been an extremely efficient way to get shooting ranges going as it expedites compliance rules and helps the department avoid barriers they might run into if they didn’t own them outright. The department pointed to the shooting range in Clayton as a model of success.

The department already has a strong partner in Clovis where a shooting range with shotgun and archery components will be located at a city park. Construction is expected to begin in the fall. The department is also working with a shooting range in Las Cruces to enhance the facilities. Director Sandoval encouraged the public to reach out to their federal congressional representative and encourage them to support the expansion of the Pittman Robertson program which can direct funds towards shooting ranges, and could help the department to get more work done quickly throughout the state.

Agenda 10 was presented by Paul Varela and gave an update on the 2018 legislative session. Given that it was a short session, it was a pretty quick session for the commission. In addition to the usual bills to determine the NMDGF budget, a call to study how wolves impact the ungulate populations was also heard. Stewart Liley said the department will do a combined study with Arizona to try and collect data on this issue.

Agenda 11 was presented by Stewart Liley and kicked off the discussion on the turkey rule. According to harvest data we average about 2,600 in the spring and 550 in the fall. The new rules are considering modifying units for the fall, adding units for the spring, and simply updating the season based on the calendar.

Agenda 12 was also an initial discussion presented by Liley, this time about the migratory game bird rule. This rule needed to undergo negotiations with federal agencies and it needs to be approved in June. The biggest changes are to the pintail bag limit, which were reduced last year. Proposed changes include putting it back to 2. Additional changes include moving the sandhill crane youth hunt to later in November and update the harvest amount.

Liley kept his seat for Agenda 13, the bighorn sheep rule. This was the second time this item was before the commission and the biggest changes are adjusting the season dates to the calendar and increasing desert and rocky bighorn sheep numbers for rams. This year has been the highest harvest, and the population of bighorns – especially the rockies – continues to grow within their historic range.

After breezing through the javelina rule, Liley presented the pronghorn rule. He explained that pronghorns are not being hunted equally across the state as landowners are not enrolling their property for eligibility. Changes proposed would allow anyone with deeded property to enroll right over the counter – similar to the current system for deer. The proposal is built out from comments from the public.

During public comment on this topic, a representative from Vermejo Park Ranch acknowledged the Game and Fish Department’s hard work on including private landowners large and small in this pronghorn rule.

Brandon Wynn, NMWF member, applauded the system for helping to get hunters and private landowners talking to each other which is a great opportunity.

Chairman Kienzle was happy to have a chance to make “so many people happy.”

Commission Ryan explained that the only negative comments she has received were from public hunters who want to be able to hunt deeded land and can’t, or private landowners who don’t want the public anywhere near their land. So she appreciated the department basing policy on the biology of the animal and gave “major props” to the department.

Liley closed out the topic by explaining the department is trying to develop access points and also have them on the app to help hunters figure out where they can access public land. The department has been working with the State Land Office and BLM to keep the information updated. Liley also encouraged private landowners to work with the department – especially in the case of checkerboarded areas.

During public comment, acting executive director Todd Leahy commended Tyson Sanders for helping us out on a hunt in Otero Mesa in March, and also expressed our members in Farmington’s desire to have a shooting range in the Four Corners area. We will be surveying our members for ideas on locations and reporting back to the commission.