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PRESS RELEASE: Conservation and environmental groups release recommendations for game commission candidates

For Immediate Release

Media Contacts:
Kevin Bixby, Southwest Environmental Center, 575-522-5552, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Judy Calman, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, 505-843-8696, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
John Crenshaw, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, 505-577-7510, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Michael Dax, Defenders of Wildlife, 505-395-7334, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Jessica Johnson, Animal Protection New Mexico, 505-265-2322, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Teresa Seamster, Sierra Club, 505-466-8964, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

October 1, 2018

This week, 22 conservation, sportsmen’s and animal protection groups representing tens of thousands of New Mexicans sent a letter to the state’s gubernatorial candidates, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce, outlining the qualifications necessary for candidates nominated to the state game commission.

“No matter who our next governor is, it will be important that he or she appoints candidates who represent all New Mexicans and recognize the challenges of wildlife management in the 21st century,” Michael Dax, national outreach representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Considering the effects of climate change and our greater understanding of ecosystem ecology, it’s increasingly necessary that our policy makers have the knowledge needed to effectively steward New Mexico’s wildlife.”

Appointed by the governor, the game commission is comprised of seven representatives, who set policy for the Department of Game and Fish. Five of those seats represent the state’s four geographical quadrants plus Bernalillo County with two additional seats representing agriculture and conservation.

The State Game Commission was established in 1921 in order to decrease the influence of politics in setting wildlife policy. But over the past decades, the game commission has become an increasingly partisan body that no longer reflects the will of the majority of New Mexicans and lacks the expertise to make decisions based on the best available science.

As the letter outlines, any candidate appointed to the commission should be dedicated to protecting nongame wildlife, increasing the Department’s scope of authority, expanding the Department’s funding sources, and increasing transparency.

The Department of Game and Fish was established prior to statehood in response to precipitous declines of game species like deer and elk. Today, both species are thriving in the state, but many other species are not, and the Department needs to shift focus to wildlife beyond just game animals.

“For the past century, the Department of Game and Fish has primarily focused on managing species for hunting and fishing, but New Mexicans’ relationship to wildlife has changed since then,” claims Jessica Johnson, chief legislative officer for Animal Protection of New Mexico. “We now have a greater science-based understanding of how important every species is to the functioning of our ecosystems—as well as changing values and economic opportunities—and we need to have leaders who are willing and able to take a more holistic approach to wildlife stewardship.”

Part of this change should include expanding the scope of the Department’s authority. According to Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center, the Department of Game and Fish only has legislative authority to manage about 60 percent of the state’s wildlife.

“Although this change will require action from the legislature, we need commissioners who recognize the need for the Department to have expanded authority and are committed to achieving this goal,” says Bixby.

If the Department’s mission is expanded, this change will likely require additional funding. Currently, the majority of the Department’s revenue is generated through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses or through federal excise taxes on the sale of firearms, ammunition or fishing tackle. However, nationally, participation in these activities is declining, threatening the long-term sustainability of this model.

“We need to start looking outside the box for how we are going to fund wildlife management in the future,” explains John Crenshaw, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the old system won’t be viable in 20 or 30 years and we need to be proactive.”

According to the letter, new sources of funding should also be more democratic. “It’s also important that we find additional funding sources that engage all New Mexicans to contribute to the long-term health of our wildlife,” says Teresa Seamster, chair of the Northern New Mexico Group of the Sierra Club. “Right now, it’s mainly hunters and anglers who contribute, but the majority of New Mexicans that don’t hunt and fish still benefit greatly from our state’s wildlife.”
Finally, the letter stresses the need to ensure transparency and responsiveness within the commission. The commission has often made unanimous decisions, with little or no discussion, that directly contradict the sentiments of the majority of audience members, giving the impression that public input is a mere formality.

The Department’s website currently includes Santa Fe PO Boxes for each commissioner, but does not include email address or phone numbers. Also, while the commission has in the past held one Saturday meeting each year, that has not been the case for the past two years.

“It’s absolutely necessary that New Mexicans have a real say in the decisions made about our wildlife,” says Judy Calman, staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Requiring agencies to take public input into account is a crucial way to ensure decision-makers are working for New Mexico’s long-term future and to provide citizens a check on the actions of their government. Right now, that’s not possible.”

The coalition of groups are hoping to meet with both candidates to discuss the letter and its prescriptions in detail.

PDF of House Bill 254

Taos News: The truth about the 'Protect the Pecos' campaign (2)

Printed in the Taos News, July 28, 2016

PDF of this Article

There is an unfortunate impression by some that conservationists have been unwilling to engage community stakeholders and are not being sensitive to their concerns. The truth is that there has been outreach to the Peñasco area since 2011. Based on these community conversations, we have listened and made significant changes to the proposal to honor the needs of the local communities.

Beyond these meetings, we’ve had many other conversations, lunches and coffees with residents, grazing permittees and acequia parciantes. These have focused on listening and constructive and respectful dialogue. While we have not resolved all of our differences, we have identified a number of areas of agreement. Virtually everyone has said that these areas deserve permanent protection through some type of federal legislation.

We agree that preserving traditional uses must be honored in any legislation. We are on record agreeing to the following: No acequia headgates or infrastructure will be included in the proposed boundaries; existing legal motorized routes will remain open; existing legal fuel wood collection sites will remain accessible – long term firewood management should be implemented; stipulating that the proposal is not intended to affect the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; That the SMA include science-based forest restoration including thinning; and welcoming the idea of having the SMA be named as a cultural heritage area.

While there are some who do not recognize the Carson National Forest as public land, and even those who have expressed a desire to open these roadless areas to commercial logging, we do not agree with these positions. We also believe that doing nothing is not an option.

We are honored to have a large and growing list of pueblo, business, organizational and individual supporters. San Miguel and Santa Fe counties and the city of Santa Fe have endorsed this proposal already. Taos, Picuris, Nambe, Pojoaque and Ohkay Owingeh
pueblos are also supportive. While it may not be possible to achieve unanimous support for conserving this land, we have pledged to continue our efforts to build as much public support and understanding as possible.

A wilderness designation is the highest level of land protection in our nation and it ensures protection of our high mountain eadwaters for our desert state. Como se dice, “Agua es vida” in New Mexico. These pristine wilderness landscapes of Taos County also attract tourists from around the world which stimulates our economy.

As parciantes, fire wood cutters, a farmer and descendants of multiple generations of Hispanic ranchers from Northern New Mexico, it is our legacy to protect our cultural and natural heritage and preserving it for future generations. Make it your legacy, too.

To join our efforts or to learn more, visit protectthepecos.org. We are eager to meet with you, whether it is around a kitchen table, in a school classroom, or an acequia meeting. Let’s keep talking.

Olivas is the traditional community organizer for New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. Salazar is the executive director of Rivers & Birds. Trujillo is the sportsman organizer for New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

Southern New Mexico Stands Up to President Trump’s Attack on Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

Order could threaten national parks, monuments, and public lands across the country

Las Cruces, New Mexico (April 26, 2017) – President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order on Wednesday that could threaten the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The order “directs the Department of the Interior to review prior monument designations and suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monument proclamations.”

Efforts to protect federal public lands in Doña Ana County began in the early 1970s, with community support growing steadily over decades. Legislation to protect the area was first introduced by Republican Senator Pete Domenici in 2005, with subsequent bills introduced until President Obama designated the area as a national monument in 2014 after Congress was unable to move legislation. More than a dozen local government support resolutions passed during this time.

“As Mayor of the New Mexico’s second largest city, I have seen first-hand the dramatic benefits created from the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.  In just the last year visitation to the Monument has more than doubled. It has garnered international attention and really helped put our City on the map.  We have even created a new “Monuments to Main Street” celebration to promote exciting new tours in the Monument and boost tourism.  It would be tremendously shortsighted to undermine our National Monument,” said Mayor of Las Cruces Ken Miyagishima.

“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument celebrates so much of the history and tourism that Mesilla is known for. From hideouts used by Billy the Kid and Geronimo to the famous Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks protects thousands of years of history in our region.  Any reduction of this special monument would undermine our rich legacy, and the tourism that we are growing because of it.” said Town of Mesilla Mayor Nora Barraza.

The Executive Order represents not only a threat to the protection of the lands and cultural sites within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, but a negative potential impact to surrounding communities and small businesses that have benefitted from it.  New business and tourism opportunities connected to National Monument have been created including the City of Las Cruces’s new “Monuments to Main Street” promotion. Tourists have visited the monument from across the world since its establishment, contributing to the 102% increase in visitation in the last year alone.  Las Cruces was recently included in Lonely Planet’s “Top 10 Places to Visit,” due in large part to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

“Our community celebrated after our spectacular lands and cultural treasures were protected through national monument designation,” said Rafael Gomez, Tribal Councilman from the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. “For years we had been working with our elected officials to protect our culture and way of life, and we were able to do so, thanks to the Antiquities Act. Any effort to change the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument would go against the will of our people.”

A recent study found that outdoor recreation alone drives a $887 billion economy and supports 7.6 million jobs.  Additionally, numerous studies have shown that communities located near monuments and other protected public lands have stronger economies, and that the outdoor and recreational opportunities they provide increase residents’ quality of life, making areas near monuments more attractive to new residents, entrepreneurs and small businesses, and investment.

Since it was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used on a bipartisan basis by the majority of U.S. presidents (16, 8 Republicans and 8 Democrats) to protect America’s most iconic natural, cultural, and historic places including: Río Grande del Norte, White Sands, Gila Cliff Dwellings, and more.

Groups representing sportsmen, cultural heritage organizations, evangelicals, conservation, recreation businesses, historic preservation, and many others all oppose efforts to undermine the Antiquities Act because of the widespread historic, cultural, and natural treasures that have been protected through its use.

“Protected public lands like Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument have always been a source of strength and resilience for veterans returning from war,” said Nate Cote, past commander, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 10.  “Our shared natural heritage is ingrained in our American ideals, and an attack on our lands and waters is an attack on our values. I fought for our country, I fought to protect Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, and I would it again without hesitation.”

The public overwhelming supports national parks, monuments, and public lands and oceans. A 2014 Hart Research poll showed that 90% of voters supported Presidential proposals to protect some public lands and waters as parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness. In the 2017 Conservation in the West poll, only 13% of western voters supported removing protections for existing monuments while 80% supported keeping them in place.

In Doña Ana County, a broad coalition of Hispanic leaders, veterans, Native Americans, sportsmen, small business owners, faith leaders, conservationists, and local elected officials have worked to preserve, and now protect, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Conservationists Intervene on Behalf of Mexican Gray Wolf Reintroduction Efforts in New Mexico

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June 6, 2016
Defenders of Wildlife: Catalina Tresky (202) 772-0253, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Center for Biological Diversity: Michael Robinson (575) 313-7017, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
WildEarth Guardians: John Horning (505) 795-5083, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance: Judy Calman (505) 843-8696, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Conservationists Intervene on Behalf of Mexican Gray Wolf Reintroduction Efforts in New Mexico
Releases of Adult Wolves and Puppies Being Blocked by State’s Game and Fish
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Defenders of Wildlife, the Center of Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) in federal court today, arguing that the state of New Mexico had no authority to block the release of Mexican gray wolf adults and pups into the wild.

On May 20, 2016, New Mexico sued the Service for releasing wolf pups, which are critical to Mexican gray wolf recovery. New Mexico’s lawsuit aims to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recapture the released pups and return them to captivity and to ban future releases.

“All wolf releases from captivity are mission critical to the recovery of the most endangered gray wolf in the world,” said Eva Sargent, senior Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “New Mexico’s politically motivated lawsuit is a meritless, obstructionist attempt to usurp the Service’s authority in endangered species recovery, as provided for in the Endangered Species Act, our nation’s most important wildlife conservation law. We won’t stand for it. We need more wolves, less politics.”

“The two captive-born pups now growing up as part of the Sheepherders Baseball Park Pack in the Gila National Forest embody the hope to diversify the Mexican wolf gene pool and save their kind from extinction,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Removing these pups would be cruel and would contribute to an ongoing decline in wolf numbers and genetic diversity.”

“Obstructing the release of more lobos—one of the most endangered mammals in the United States—is a crime against nature,” said John Horning, executive director for WildEarth Guardians. “We’re intervening in this baseless lawsuit to stop New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s relentless assault against wolves and ensure that people will have the opportunity to experience wolves in our beautiful state.”

“America's first designated wilderness area deserves a balanced ecosystem with healthy populations of animals at every level of the food chain,” said Judy Calman, staff attorney for New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Mexican wolves are a keystone species in the Gila, and the Fish and Wildlife Service's ability to release them is critical to their recovery and to the management of the wilderness area as a whole. Politics should not be allowed to override science here.”

The Mexican gray wolf, or lobo, is the most endangered gray wolf in the world. With only 97 wolves in the wild in the United States at the last official count and fewer than 25 in Mexico, today the wolf population faces a drop in numbers and a genetic diversity crisis. The 2015 count dropped

considerably from the all-time high of 110 wolves in 2014. Releases of captive wolves are critically needed to increase the genetic diversity in the wild lobo population. Limited genetic diversity in the wild is leading to smaller litters and lower pup survival – a recipe for extinction.

Scientists, wolf breeding facilities and other conservationists urge the releases of many more wolves into the wild in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest to enhance genetic diversity. But in the face of opposition from the livestock industry and the states of Arizona and New Mexico, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) had only released four captive-born wolves during the entire Obama administration until this spring; three died and one was trapped and returned to captivity.

On February 17, 2015, under authority of the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA)and a new management rule promulgated on January 16, 2015, the Gila National Forest was opened up to releases of captive-born wolves. In an apparent effort to cooperate with the State of New Mexico, the Service applied for state permits to release captive Mexican gray wolves. In June 2015, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish refused to grant the Service a permit to release Mexican gray wolf pups and adults into the wild. The Service appealed the State’s decision to the New Mexico Fish and Game Commission, and the public overwhelmingly commented and testified in support of the Service at a public hearing last August. However, the commission refused to reverse the department’s decision.

The ESA requires the Service to “cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the states” as it pursues species recovery programs. However, the law gives the Service the ability to release endangered species without state permits if states do not allow the Service to carry out its lawful responsibilities. So, in April, the Service released two cross-fostered wolf pups into the wild in New Mexico and plans to release more wolves in the wild in June.
On May 20, 2016, New Mexico sued the Service for releasing the wolf pups, which are critical to Mexican gray wolf recovery. New Mexico’s lawsuit aims to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recapture the released pups and return them to captivity and to ban future releases.

While the conservation organizations involved in this suit do not think the Service is doing enough to support lobo recovery, they are engaging in support of the Service’s clear authority to release wolves and the clear conservation need to do so now and in the future.###

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. Get the latest Defenders news on Twitter @defendersnews.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West.
The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit, grassroots organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and wilderness areas