Interim Committee Update

Interim Committee Update
NMF&LB Interim Committee Update

Aug. 30 – Sept. 5, 2018 

 Water and Natural Resources Committee

August 30 & 31, 2018

The New Mexico Legislature’s Water and Natural Resources Committeemet this past week in Chama to discuss several issues regarding wildlife in the State and the departments that oversee them. The agenda was very slanted in favor of the activists presenting and really left the Game and Fish Department as well as the Commission defending most of what they currently do. Our departments certainly have room for improvement, government always does, but these meetings were very telling of the agenda to come from several of the environmental groups this next legislative session (and some of our more progressive legislators). 

Topics discussed at the meeting included:

Expanding the Mission of the Department of Game and Fish, Including Funding Mechanisms

State Game Commission Reform

Elk Management Issues

Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery and Reintroduction

Horse Management Issues

Wildlife Rehabilitation Licensure

 

Here’s a brief summary of each hearing:

Michael Sloane, the newly appointed Director of the Department of Game and Fish, presented with Michael Dax, National Outreach Representative for Defenders of Wildlife on the topic of Expanding the Mission of the Department of Game and Fish, Including Funding Mechanisms. Director Sloan first started by talking about his experience with the Department and why he feels he will be successful leading the department after director Sandoval’s recent departure. He also discussed the work of the department and its jurisdictional authority as it relates to game. Michael Dax then presented, and his main point was that the Department of Game and Fish should be changed to the “Wildlife Department” and the department should have authority over ALL species in New Mexico (i.e. pack rats, insects, spiders, squirrels, etc.). Many legislators were taken aback by this proposal while others liked the idea. Senator Sharerfrom Farmington was one of the first comment and he questioned if he “found a pack rat in his home and he were to accidentally kill it; would he have to notify Game and Fish?” Mr. Dax responded by saying that under current law it would not be the requirement but if packrats were at some point needing to be protected, then yes, you would need to notify the department of the animal. Mr. Dax also said that there should be a tax levied against all New Mexicans to help fully fund the department since the wildlife in the state “belongs to all New Mexicans” not just sportsman. Mr. Dax also said the state could look at increasing license fees for hunting and fishing to help generate more revenue. Director Sloane responded that the department didn’t have the time or resources to oversee every single animal, insect or spider in the state. Rep. Paul Bandy asked Mr. Dax to clarify his intent, “You want to expand the Department to oversee EVERTHING including all varmints, etc.?” Mr. Dax responded “yes.” Several members of the committee did like the proposal however. Rep. Joanne Ferrarysaid she would like to see a “new Wildlife Department” to have jurisdiction over wild horses as well.

 

The committee also heard about Elk Management Issues (particularly in Northern NM). Game & Fish Director Sloane and Gerald Chacon, Board of Directors Member with the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association discussed the issues he and some of his fellow ag producers are experiencing. Mr. Chacon outlined some of the issues he’s had with elk knocking down fences, trampling water sources that are used to water crops and livestock and he discussed issues and difficulties dealing with Game and Fish to get recoupment for damages cause by elk herds. Director Sloane outlined some of the things the department is currently doing to work with farmers and ranchers to make them whole when they do experience damage and destruction to their ranches. The Director also discussed some new ideas the department would look at to better address the Elk management issues going forward (ie. increased elk tags, funds for fencing out elk, etc.)

 

The committee also heard from a panel on the Gray Wolf Recovery and Reintroduction in the state. Craig Miller, Coordinator of Coexistence Programs presented on behalf of advocates for the gray wolf and he talked about the progress of the current program and items with the plan he’d like to see expanded. He criticized the Game Commission for not adopting the original plan presented by US Fish and Wildlife when Arizona’s Commission did. When Director Sloane was asked why the Department/Commission didn’t jump on board immediately, Director Sloane pointed to several issues with the original plan and why it was not in the best interest of New Mexico or its citizens (a stance that NMFLB agrees with). Director Sloane and Mr. Miller were also joined by Sisto Hernandez, Chairman of the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Council. Mr. Hernandez talked about a program that allows Livestock producers to submit applications to the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Council to receive payments for wolf presence under the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Plan. The plan is comprised of three core strategies: payments for wolf presence, funding for conflict avoidance measures, and funding for depredation compensation. Mr. Hernandez said the Mexican Wolf/ Livestock Council’s payments for wolf presence program recognizes the indirect costs to livestock producers from Mexican wolves, including stress-related weight loss in livestock and other management costs. He said the program is not fully funded yet, but the Council is continuing to seek funding to fully implement the program. Mr. Hernandez discussed how payments to livestock producers for wolf presence are based on a formula that considers a variety of factors, including whether the applicant’s land or grazing lease overlaps a wolf territory or core area (e.g., den or rendezvous area) and the number of wolf pups from that pack surviving to December 31, recognizing that survival of wolf pups is not dependent upon the livestock producer. The formula also considers the number of livestock exposed to wolves and the applicant’s participation in proactive conflict avoidance measures. "We're encouraged by how many livestock producers have participated in this program over the past two years,” said Mr. Hernandez. “The driving force behind this program was to develop something that would recognize the increase in expenditures the ranchers experience with the recovery of the Mexican Wolves. Our continuing goal is to search out additional avenues that will increase our capacity to provide assistance to those who need it the most.”

 

Robert “Bob” Alexander, Executive Director of New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB) briefed the committee on Horse Management Issues. He talked about the duties of the livestock board and how they currently manage wild/feral horses in the State. He pointed out that horses are not native to New Mexico or even this continent and the “Wild Horses” we see around the state are in fact feral, not wild. He said there are many times throughout the year that horses either get loose or people can no longer care for them, so they set them free on public lands as well as other people’s private property. He outlined the process the NMLB follows to either return those horses to their rightful owner or auction them off if they are not claimed. Mr. Alexander was also joined by Patience O'Dowd, President of the Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA), Sandi Claypool, President of the Monero Mustangs and Mike Neas, Member of Let Our Lands Rest (and resident of Placitas). Ms. O’Dowd talked about her love for the “wild horses” in the state and she also discussed PZP, a horse “birth control.” Ms. O’Dowd said that PZP is a safe, feasible, and viable solution to overpopulation of horses. She said “WHOA’s vision has never included wild horse over population.” WHOA’s proactive efforts to provide birth control since 2010 prior to current issues, have been bureaucratically hampered. WHOA is working with local, state, and federal agencies for approval to provide contraception and immediate foster and adoption services for excess horses. She said she used to be allowed to use PZP on horses, but the State put a stop to it. Mr. Neas said he’s written letters to everyone he can think of urging them to take action. He believes the horses fall under the category of stray and nuisance animals under a county ordinance. Mr. Neas has counted up to 39 horses near his Rancho de Placitas property (200+ horses are believed to be in the area). He and others say they have stripped the fragile desert landscape of vegetation and regularly trample and defecate on private property. “Our private lands are being decimated the same as our public lands,” Neas said. He also pointed out the local law enforcement officials don’t have the personnel, training or equipment to deal with the horses and he believes the responsibility rests with the state Livestock Board (including the rounding up of horses). But WHOA has been vocal against the idea of rounding up the horses. In 2011, WHOA sued the Secretary of the Interior and the BLM to prevent the roundup of horses on public lands around Placitas. The lawsuit claimed the removal of horses would harm WHOA members who enjoy observing, photographing and writing about the horses.

 

Dr. Kathleen Ramsey discussed the creation of Wildlife Rehabilitation Licensure. Dr. Ramsey is the Founder of New Mexico Wildlife Center. Dr. Ramsey testified that she spends about $300,000 per year rehabilitating injured animals. She talked about the extensive training required to properly rehabilitate animals and how many people around the state who try to do animal rehabilitation are not equipped to do this work. She also pointed to state laws that prevent certain animals from being rehabilitated (i.e. raccoons or skunks) because they MAY carry diseases, specifically rabies. In fact, she said current state law requires that Game and Fish be notified, and they will come out and kill the animal(s), whether that animal is infected with a disease or not. Dr. Ramsey She asked that the committee consider legislation that would not require wildlife to be killed just because they could carry rabies. But she stressed the importance of this being paired with training/certification requirements for rehabilitators so that someone does not inadvertently release an animal back into the wild that is infected and will impact other wildlife. 

 

Economic and Rural Development Committee

September 4 & 5, 2018

The Economic and Rural Development Committeemet on Tuesday and Wednesday in Alamogordo and Cloudcroft. The committee’s agenda was predominantly alcohol and horse racing related, but there were two topics discussed that are of particular interest to our members.

 

The committee started its meeting on Tuesday with a presentation from Kelsey Rader, Natural Resources Policy Director for New Mexico First.  Kelsey provided an update on NM First’s “Resilience in New Mexico Agriculture Project. Several industry groups like NMF&LB, Cattlegrowers and Soil & Water Conservation Districts participated in the town hall and listening sessions that took place to help create the document. Ms. Rader’s update focused on the Agriculture Supply Chain, Agriculture Workforce Development and Agriculture Loans and Financing. Ms. Rader said that New Mexico’s Agriculture Industry provides $10.6 billion of the State’s GDP and accounts for more than 50,000 jobs statewide. She also talked about the financial struggles ag producers face due to markets, disease, financing sources and access to capital. Ms. Rader provided a great picture of some of the obstacles farm and ranchers face and she talked about the need for developing young farmers and ranchers to meet food and fiber demands in the years to come. Kelsey was also joined by Michael Patrick from New Mexico County Extension Services. Michael talked about the “New Mexico Agriculture & Food Supply Chain Atlas” that the Department of Ag is creating. 

 

The committee moved hearings to Cloudcroft on Wednesday to hear several issues including Livestock Theft and Trichomoniasis Issues. Mr. Alexander, Executive Director, New Mexico Livestock Board, John Wenzel, D.V.M. (Extension Veterinarian) for NMSU said they have found cases of Trichomoniasis in New Mexico and discussed the need for mandatory testing requirements for Trichomoniasis. He cited other states that have mandatory testing and how they have been able to eradicate the disease. Senator Woods asked them who has authority currently? Mr. Wenzel said he believes the Livestock Board already has the authority but when the rules were implemented, the Attorney General said they believed the Livestock Board only has authority to quarantine for trich. There is a movement to increase testing where the disease exists. Senator Woods asked how a person would get a quarantine removed off a herd. Mr. Wenzel said testing and on-site inspection is key. He said in order to get off the quarantine list, you must conduct three required tests on your livestock. Two tests have to be done before bulls are turned out and third test has to be done within 12 months of the first two tests but after breeding season is done. Mr. Wenzel said that 97.5% cows will clear themselves of trich within 5 months of sexual rest. There have been producer meetings to notify the public. There have already been meetings in Belen and Union County. He said the meeting in Belen was very productive with lots of great input from producers. 

 

Mr. Alexander then discussed Livestock Theft Issues in the state. He first started by giving a brief history of his time with the board. He said when he started, Producers voiced their opinions and said there was too much inspection going on. He said now they’ve seen a reversal on that due to recent theft increases, particularly in southern New Mexico.  Mr. Alexander said the board realized there were some gaps so they began to work on those. Specifically, he said there were several reported cases of theft/loss that had not been followed up on or cleared so the NMLB has worked to clear those cases. He also mentioned shortfalls in staffing, pointing to a vacancy with the NMLB’s head law enforcement agent since April (but they are hoping to fill that vacancy soon). He said the NMLB team needs “rovers” that are not assigned to inspections, but instead, would be focused on investigations. He believes they need five and they will be asking for legislative funding support this next session. Judy Keeler, a member of New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association and New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau also participate in the hearing. She outlined issues her family’s ranch has experienced over the years and she provided the committee, as well as the NMLB, recommendations for improving services provide by the board to help combat the theft issue.