New Mexico wildlife commission left without enough members

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A key state commission that guides New Mexico’s wildlife agency and oversees a multimillion-dollar budget that includes conservation, hunting and fishing programs won’t be able to conduct any business until the governor fills at least one of four outstanding vacancies.

Game Commission Chair Deanna Archuleta submitted her resignation Monday, leaving the seven-member panel short of a quorum. Her announcement that she needed to devote more time to her job with a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm came less than two weeks after taking over as chair.

It marks the latest shakeup for the commission during Lujan Grisham’s tenure. The previous chairwoman resigned in October, and two previous commissioners were ousted after running afoul of the governor over a stream access fight that was ultimately settled by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The governor’s office confirmed Thursday that it was in the process of making appointments and the commission would have a quorum before a scheduled meeting in April.

Sportsmen’s groups and other critics have raised concerns about systemic problems not being addressed while the commission has been shorthanded over most of the past four years. They pointed to turnover among the Game and Fish Department’s conservation officers, a lack of maintenance at the state’s fish hatcheries and pleas going unanswered to reform the draw process for elk hunting tags.

A report released last fall by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation suggested the state’s system of allocating elk licenses was skewed in favor of landowners who often resell the tags to the highest bidder. The sportsmen’s group pointed to data from the Game and Fish Department that showed nonresidents obtained over 35% of the total elk licenses issued in 2021.

Other western states, including neighboring Arizona, limit nonresident hunters to a maximum of 10% of licenses.

The group has argued that many of the licenses granted through the landowner program allow hunters to hunt on public lands where they compete with resident hunters who drew tags in the public draw.

Jesse Deubel, executive director of the federation, is among those who have called for changes. He said in a statement that the state needs to insulate wildlife management decisions from politics.

“We’ve seen game commissioners removed for standing up for the public and we’re all suffering as a result. It’s time for a change,” he said.

Archuleta said she was not aware of the governor’s office engaging directly on commission issues.

The commission’s seven members are appointed by the governor with the consent of the state Senate. Five of the members represent regions of the state and two serve at large.

Legislation under consideration now would change the way commissioners are appointed by giving the Legislative Council authority to appoint four of the seven members. The measure also would take away the governor’s ability to dismiss a commissioner, allowing the state Supreme Court to take action in cases of incompetence or malfeasance.