SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a $5 million question. Lawmakers in this special session are trying to figure out how to spend more than a billion dollars in federal relief funds but, tucked in House Bill 2, are millions for the Game and Fish Department, and no one seems to know why, including Game and Fish.

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It left state lawmakers speechless. House Bill 2 lists projects on how to spend federal COVID-relief funding. But, when the bill made it to the Senate, there were a lot of questions about $5 million to the Department of Game and Fish to acquire property for the state game commission.

“I guess I would first like to begin by expressing my surprise at the inclusion of the $5 million appropriation for property acquisition statewide,” said Director of the Department of Game and Fish, Michael Sloane.

It even caught Game and Fish off guard, saying they didn’t make the request.

Senator Crystal Diamond: “I guess my first question – and I’m afraid you don’t have the answer – if you’re not requesting the funds for this land acquisition, who put it in House Bill Two?”
Sloane: “I don’t actually have an answer for that question.”

Game and Fish does buy land for conservation, recreation, and hunting. Senators speculated the $5 million was to help purchase the L Bar Ranch, but that wasn’t spelled out. “There is a contract on the ranch, we don’t know who signed the contract, we don’t know anything. The total price is like $33 million,” said Senator George Nuñoz, D-Cibola, McKinley, and San Juan counties.

“It leaves us to believe that maybe it’s the environmental groups that are part of the process in purchasing that land – we’ve even heard maybe it’s some rogue game commissioner that has tried to include this in the budget without overall approval from the game commission itself,” said Sen. Diamond.

The $5 million for Game and Fish was removed from the bill Friday.