Members of an influential commission that governs hunting, fishing and other wildlife management activities across New Mexico have been asked to resign, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office said Monday.
The seven-member game commission serves at the pleasure of the governor, and last week she requested they submit their resignations. They have until Wednesday to respond.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, took office in January and has been working to install her own appointees on a number of boards and commissions. As for the wildlife board, more than 80 candidates have expressed interest.
A game commission meeting scheduled for this week was postponed indefinitely as the governor’s office has not set a firm timeline for seating a new board. Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said the effort would be as expeditious as possible.
The cancellation without an explanation and rumors of the requests for resignations spurred concerns over the weekend among sportsmen groups and others who work closely with the commission and the state game and fish department.
“This is kind of a scary situation for everybody, not having any idea who the new commission is going to be,” said Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
Deubel and others had advocated for legislation during the recent session that would have revamped the way the commission was appointed. By splitting appointments between the governor and the legislative branch, supporters argued that some of the politics would be removed from the panel.
The measure also would have given exclusive authority to the state Supreme Court for removal of a commissioner for incompetence, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office, rather than leaving it up to the governor.
The measure cleared the House but stalled in the Senate.
“Without having just cause for removal, essentially you almost have no need for the commission. They do whatever the governor tells them to do,” Deubel said. “The idea was to provide some insulation between the governor and the game department.”
Aside from setting rules for big game hunts and fishing, the commission’s duties also include hiring a director to lead the state game and fish department, which has an annual budget of about $40 million. It’s not clear whether a new commission would opt for making any management changes within the agency.
Michael Sloane was named as the new director last summer, having worked for the agency for more than two decades. He began his career in 1994 as a wildlife culturist at a hatchery in Pecos and went on to become chief of fisheries.
The new commission will have to address concerns about hunting permits and whether residents are getting their fair share as mandated in state law. The allocation of hunting tags has been an issue that has transcended administrations.