Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Rocky Mountain States Senior Coordinator
Why it Matters: Sportsmen and women are conservationists, period. Not only do hunters, anglers, trappers, and recreational shooters pay for the vast majority of state-based conservation efforts through the American System of Conservation Funding, they more often than not also volunteer their time, resources, and money to support on the ground conservation organizations like Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, and Pheasants Forever, just to name a few. However, in states like New Mexico, non-sportsmen and women have begun to express concern surrounding a perceived hierarchy to conservation priorities in which game species are placed above all others. Thus, CSF and other in-state conservation organizations have begun to engage in conversations with the legislature surrounding wildlife management reform.
Wildlife management and conservation costs money. No user-group is more familiar with this “user pays – public benefits” system than hunters, anglers, trappers, and recreational shooters. Whether it’s due to a lack of education or an ethical disagreement with the sustainable consumptive use of game and fish species, some individuals separate of the outdoor sporting community have made incorrect and unfair assertations that sportsmen and women only care about game species. Sportsmen and women are supportive of the sustainable conservation of all species and the ecosystems in which they thrive. Think about it, if we did not properly manage and conserve species and their habitat, we would no longer be able to hunt, fish, or trap those species. It is in our best interest to sustainably manage all fish, wildlife, and their habitats so future generations of sportsmen and women can continue to participate in our shared outdoor heritage. The unease the sportsmen and women express surrounding wildlife management reform doesn’t stem from a dislike of non-game species, but rather a concern on who is going to pay for it.
The latest state to discuss wildlife management reform in the western US is New Mexico. The NMDGF is unique in that it receives no money from the state general fund and is 99% funded directly by sportsmen and women, equating to roughly a $40 million dollar budget. Last week the Interim Water and Natural Resource Committee hosted a wildlife management reform panel discussion with 5 individuals, representing sportsmen and women, wildlife conservationists, environmentalists, animal rights advocates, and private landowners. Not surprising, all panelists agreed that the needs of New Mexico’s wildlife are exceeding the significant and commendable funding provided by sportsmen and women, and it is time for other user groups to financially invest in conservation. While some panelists suggested tapping into the general fund, others saw an opportunity to explore the idea of a potential tax on all outdoor equipment (e.g., backpacks, binoculars, tents, etc.) that would be exclusively used for wildlife conservation and management. Such a legislative fix would continue with the “user pays – public benefits” system that has been so successful and continues to allow the NMDGF to be a self-funding and sustainable department.
However, during the discussion on rebranding and expanding the purview of the NMDGF, several panelists expressed significant fiscal concerns. According to a Fiscal Impact Report, the cost to simply rename the NMDGF would be approximately $3 million, not including any potential matching funds from federal Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Acts or the additional cost of increased management responsibilities. Several panelists described the renaming expense as unnecessary, listing numerous ways in which the $3 million could be put to better use for on the ground conservation priorities like Chronic Wasting Disease monitoring, funding additional conservation officer salaries, habitat restoration, and State Wildlife Action Plans to name a few.
If individuals outside of the sporting community want to expand the mission, purview, and responsibilities of the NMDGF, it’s time they put some financial skin in the game. If organizations truly want to improve wildlife conservation in New Mexico, they should focus on areas that directly benefit conservation, not waste precious time, money, and resources on an expensive and unnecessary rebranding of an entire department. Panelists and legislators alike left the discussion with plenty of ideas on a potential path forward that could benefit not only New Mexico’s fish and wildlife, but all user groups as well.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?