By Teresa Seamster, Northern Group chair
The 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan took two years to develop and was prepared with the cooperation of many state partners, such as Natural Heritage New Mexico at UNM, Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at New Mexico State University, state Forestry and the Surface Water Bureau.
A simple request for a 10-year renewal of federal funding for the Wildlife Action Plan suddenly took on aspects of a showdown between Game commissioners and the Game and Fish Department when staff biologists presented the plan at the November commission meeting in Roswell.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife funding is offered to all 50 states plus U.S. territories to help state wildlife departments monitor and develop information on any native species that is declining in number or vulnerable to extinction. All 50 states have submitted their state-approved state wildlife action plans and will receive their 2016 funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with one exception: New Mexico.
The commissioners criticized the plan for being too long and too difficult to understand. They criticized the section that outlined “threats to species,” which they felt was “hostile” to oil development and agriculture, and said the three-tiered listing of at-risk species was “incomprehensible” (Tier 1 lists the most threatened animals, and Tier 2 and Tier 3 list species in the order they are most likely to become threatened over the next 10 years).
Commissioner Beth Ryan, an oil-and-gas “landsman,” and attorney, was the most outspoken in her claims that the Wildlife Plan was a “regulatory document” that could be used to force oil companies and ranchers to do something they didn’t want to do. The Game and Fish Department stated repeatedly that the plan can only be used for planning purposes and cannot compel any action, but that fell on deaf ears, and Ryan insisted she “did not agree.”
Ryan further contended that New Mexico has too many species (455) on the list of “species of greatest conservation need” and it should be “about 10.“ The fact that New Mexico has some of the highest biodiversity in the United States and that similar states, such as Texas and California, list over 800 species of concern made no impression.
The governor-appointed commissioners stated repeatedly they did not trust the federal government with comments like:
“I, like others here, can’t trust the Fish and Wildlife Service, (and) also the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.”
“I appreciate you put in the document that it is a planning tool and not regulatory, but I don’t believe that the federal agencies look at it that way.”
What is the State Wildlife Action Plan?
- The State Wildlife and Tribal Grants Program is the only federal program with the explicit goal of preventing Endangered Species listings.
- These grants are available to states with an approved State Wildlife Action Plan that identify “species of greatest conservation need” and voluntary measures to conserve them.
- State wildlife action plans are non- regulatory. They are intended to save taxpayer dollars by conserving fish and wildlife through proactive, voluntary measures before they become more costly (and controversial) to conserve as endangered species.
- Over the last 10 years, New Mexico has received almost $14 million in State Wildlife Grants that have funded 55 projects — research, habitat acquisition, monitoring and restoration projects that benefit all species and would not have been funded otherwise.
In denying approval, the Game Commission has thrown away up to $14 million for the conservation mission of the department over the next 10 years. Decisions like this lead to failure in protecting sensitive native species and another last place for New Mexico.
Photo of game commissioners from Bold Vision Conservation