SANTA FE — Starting this year, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish will no longer refund basic game hunting license fees to hunters who fail to draw additional big game hunting licenses.
The department will continue to grant refunds on big game licenses to hunters who fail to draw them.
The policy change will bring over $3 million a year in additional revenue to the game department from both the retained license fees and matching federal dollars, NM Game and Fish Department Director Michael Sloane said Thursday.
New Mexico requires hunters applying for licenses to hunt big game such as deer and elk first to buy a game hunting license valid for small game and upland birds. The game hunting license costs $15 for residents and $65 for nonresidents.
Since 2011, the game department has refunded the cost of the game hunting licenses on demand to hunters who later failed to draw big game tags.
The lost revenue from the game hunting license refund policy has been substantial. Nonresident hunters have been the main beneficiaries.
In the current license year, the game department reports that it refunded 18,637 nonresident game hunting licenses at $65 each, totaling over $1.2 million. It also refunded 8,183 resident game hunting licenses at $15 each, totaling over $122,000. The total refunds amounted to over $1.3 million.
Each of those 26,280 canceled game hunting licenses cost the game department an additional $91 lost from federal aid funds apportioned through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, totaling $2.4 million.
Overall, the refund program cost the game department over $3.7 million this year.
Sloane said the policy change will encourage people to get outdoors and hunt small game and upland birds even if they don’t draw a big game tag. He said the policy change also should also help bring hunters from out of state.
“If they have the license, it’s another good reason for them to come and spend their money here,” Sloane said.
Sloane said the game department will likely direct a large portion of the new revenue toward habitat restoration programs.
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups have lobbied to end the game hunting license refund program, noting that neighboring states don’t refund license fees to unsuccessful applicants.
Wildlife Federation President John Crenshaw and Executive Director Jesse Deubel wrote in December to Sloane and Game Commission Chairman Paul Kienzle urging them to end the refund program.
Kienzle declined comment Thursday on the change beyond saying Sloane had recommended it.
Crenshaw said Thursday the federation is pleased with the action.
“This had needlessly deprived the department of game and fish of needed revenue that it could have used for wildlife restoration, habitat or watershed improvements, or law enforcement, or any number of other things,” Crenshaw said. He said New Mexico was the only state with such a refund policy.
“We would encourage people to put that license to use,” Crenshaw said of the game hunting licenses. “New Mexico has some really great quail, dove and waterfowl hunting in the lower elevations and grouse and squirrel in the higher elevations that can provide a lot of good hunting and great food.”
In other action, the state game commission voted Thursday to retain Kienzle as chairman and Bill Montoya as vice-chairman. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not yet appointed new commission members.