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NM sportsmen concerned about hunting access

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By Special to the Monitor

SANTA FE — Santa Fe retiree Ron Hammond said he’ll have to go to Wyoming again this year because he can’t get an antelope hunting permit in New Mexico.

“It’s totally disgusting. It’s totally unjust,” Hammond told the Albuquerque Journal in a copyright story published Sunday. He has struck out in his attempts over the past 15 or so years to draw a big game license in New Mexico.

Apparently, Hammond is not alone.

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation, a statewide sportsmen’s group, said New Mexico’s generosity to in-state landowners and out-of-state hunters combines to squeeze out locals, and the situation is getting worse.

“It’s not just people complaining about the luck of the draw,” said the federation’s director, Jeremy Vesbach. “At heart, it’s an unfair system.”

The Game and Fish Department says elected legislators and governor-appointed commissioners are the ones who — through a public process — establish the laws and rules that govern the system. The game department just implements it.

Department spokesman Marty Frentzel says people have “plenty of opportunities” to provide input.

The recent public drawing decided who got licenses to hunt deer, elk, antelope, ibex, javelina, bighorn sheep and Barbary sheep.

While there were more than enough javelina licenses to go around, there was competition for other species. For example, there were 10,042 applications by resident and nonresident hunters for 1,699 antelope licenses in the public drawing, 39,859 applications for 20,255 elk licenses, 5,085 applications for 14 bighorn sheep licenses and 3,699 applications for 200 ibex licenses.

There were more deer licenses than applications — 36,195 licenses and 35,882 applications. That includes licenses for less popular types of weapons, such as bows and arrows or muzzle loaders, and for less popular areas.

The state gives away a large percentage of the available hunts to private owners of land that is the animals’ habitat. Colorado and Utah also give transferable tags to landowners, but Vesbach said his research showed less than 10 percent of the antelope permits went to them. In New Mexico, he said 70 percent of pronghorn antelope licenses were allocated to landowners in 2008.

Elk and antelope are the only two New Mexico species subject to the landowner allocation system. Cal Baca, the state Game and Fish Department’s private land programs manager, said landowners are given the authorizations in recognition of their contribution to wildlife habitat.

“We’re basically saying, because your private property is supporting a certain number of antelope, this is your ability to hunt some of them,” Baca said.

He said he doesn’t feel it’s an unfair system. But neither is it consistent, he added, because the agency’s four designated geographical areas differ in their methods of determining the allocations to landowners.

The department is developing a statewide approach to managing antelope that would standardize the allocation procedures. Frentzel said the system is currently being debated and the public can comment on it.

Vesbach said a system that creates a “secondary market” in tags politicizes wildlife management and is unfair to hunters.

“No matter where they are, the wildlife belongs to the public,” he said.