February 14, 2023

Legislation aimed at restructuring the New Mexico Game Commission

Hannah Grover/NM Political Report

A deer rests in the shade in Animas Park in Farmington.

It’s been years since all seven positions on the New Mexico Game Commission were filled and, last week, the chairwoman resigned leaving the commission with only three members, which is not enough to form a quorum. That means the game commission cannot meet.

State Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, has sponsored bills this Legislative session in an attempt to fix some of the problems with the game commission that have resulted in the lack of quorum.

These proposals include moving the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to be under the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and an effort to restructure the commission.

On Monday in the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, McQueen said those two bills are different paths and are not intended to work together, but rather to create the discussion.

“We really can’t move forward with both bills,” he said. “They conflict.”

HB 183, which would have moved the game and fish department to EMNRD, failed in McQueen’s House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a 5-5 vote and he said he does not plan to try to revive it this session.

That leaves HB 184, which proposes changes both to who serves on the commission and how they are appointed. The bill passed the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a 7-2 vote with Republican Rep. John Block of Alamogordo breaking party lines to vote with the Democrats. 

Block explained that he thinks the bill has some problems, but that he voted for it because it would limit the governor’s powers.

Currently, the governor appoints all seven members of the game commission. The bill would have the Legislative Council appoint four of the seven members. The remaining three members would remain appointed by the governor, but she would be required to appoint one from each Congressional district and no more than two of them could be from the same political party. The Senate would then confirm those three, but would not confirm the four that the Legislative Council appoints.

The Legislative Council appointees would consist of a rancher or farmer, a conservationist from a wildlife organization not focused on game species, a hunter or angler and a scientist who has at least a master’s degree in wildlife biology, conservation biology, fisheries science or management, wildlife management or a similar field. No more than two of the appointees could be from the same county.

The bill would also change the length of the terms to six years rather than four.

Proponents of HB 184 say that it would make the game commission less political by reducing the number of commissioners appointed by the governor and that it would add expertise.

They also say that it would bring new representation for people in the state like bird watchers or wildlife photographers.

Mary Katherine Ray, the wildlife chair of the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, said that when the game commission was formed about a century ago, the focus was on hunting and fishing because those were the people who were primarily interacting with wildlife.

“But today things have changed,” she said.

She highlighted a 2016 survey that found wildlife watchers and photographers outnumber hunters and anglers.

HB 184 now heads to the House floor for debate.