The state Department of Game and Fish is stuck in a dilemma created by questions concerning their wildlife conservation responsibilities and their primary source of funding, hunting and fishing licenses.

Wildlife is a public resource that depends on public lands and tax dollars. When you include land management and conservation funding, approximately 90 percent of the total support for wildlife conservation comes from nonhunters. Nevertheless, some hunters insist that Game and Fish owes them top priority in wildlife decisions, and lobby Game and Fish to stick to “game,” not wildlife management.

Despite evidence that nonconsumptive wildlife users now outnumber hunters by a wide margin, the Game Commission, Game and Fish’s oversight committee, remains partial to ranchers and hunters. Game and Fish is touting the hunter’s version of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation as the formula for future improvement. The original North American Model principles, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, included: Wildlife is considered a public resource; wildlife markets for game must be eliminated; frivolous killing of wildlife is prohibited; and wildlife decisions must be based on sound science, such as annual waterfowl population surveys and the work of professional wildlife biologists.

State Game and Fish’s interpretation of the North American Model is altogether different. In its mind, wildlife and conservation have been replaced by game and management, respectively, and science often has been neglected. Only “game” animals hunted by license have standing; nongame wildlife is expendable.

Cruel and dangerous do-it-yourself trapping, free year-round frivolous killing of nongame with the carcasses left to rot, and the endless “wars on predators” are all good. Game and Fish has also opted out of ethical hunting and “fair chase” provisions, leaving those decisions to hunters. In addition, the controversial and deadly AR-15s and related devices including silencers, computerized mile-or-more scopes, night (thermal) scopes, high-capacity magazines, etc. are now approved for hunting in New Mexico.

The state Game and Fish Department has been overwhelmed by game management for hunters and ranchers and profit. What will it take to restore the department’s original wildlife conservation responsibilities based on Aldo Leopold’s wildlife ecosystem science and serving the diverse public trust, including nonconsumptive interests?

Laddie Mills is native of Hobbs and lives in Albuquerque. He is a lifelong outdoorsman and retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife project engineer and manager.

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