SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s hunting and fishing regulations are overseen by a commission that oversees millions in spending and hires the director of the Department of Game and Fish. But some lawmakers say the commission isn’t working.
The State Game Commission is made up of seven citizens appointed by the governor of New Mexico. At least, it’s supposed to be. Right now, the commission has been missing a chairperson for months and currently only has five members.
“Our state legislators recognize how important this game commission is. Unfortunately, I don’t think other folks recognize how important this commission is because we still have two vacancies on the commission that we’ve had for over a year,” Jesse Deubel, the executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, told lawmakers in a Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting on Monday. “Our membership has lost confidence in the commission’s ability to act as an independent body . . . game commission reform is crucial.”
Part of the concern surrounding the commission is the fact that commissioners can be removed from the commission, seemingly without reason. As a result, Deubel says commissioners can’t act on their own conviction of what might be best for the state.
The story circulating around the Roundhouse is that the Governor has taken members off the commission over policy disagreements. An Albuquerque Journal op-ed discussed one dismissal, and the Associated Press said the governor’s office noted “some disagreements about policy” when the governor chose not to re-appoint the commission’s chair in 2019.
“We have a dysfunctional part of our state government,” Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Doña Ana) said after hearing Deubel’s concerns. “We, as legislators, eventually have to accept some responsibility.”
This year, lawmakers did pass a bill that would make some changes to the State Game Commission. Senate Bill 184 aimed to allow the state’s legislative council to appoint some of the commission members. The bill also would have protected the seats – under the bill, a commissioner couldn’t be removed except for incompetence, neglect, or malfeasance.
The bill was pocket-vetoed by the governor. She declined to sign the bill into law within the allotted time.
Now, lawmakers are debating whether to re-introduce the bill in an upcoming session. The director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Michael Sloane, told lawmakers he feels there should be extensive public comment on how to update the department and the commission. But when lawmakers asked if there were any plans to engage the community on those issues, Sloane said they currently have no plans to do that.