Game and Fish Department Colludes with Industry Groups
Agency Fails to Disclose Public Records before Game Commission Hearing
Mary Katherine Ray | Sierra Club | 575-772-5655
Santa Fe, NM. Today, wildlife advocates sent a second set of document requests to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish after the agency failed to produce public records, even as the state’s Game Commission readies itself to consider the fate of public lands trapping as part of its Thursday hearing in Clayton, New Mexico. The partial response produced by the Department indicates that it colluded with the trapping and livestock industry groups in an attempt to influence the Game Commission’s decision-making process.
“The Game and Fish Department has held meetings with industry groups on the trapping issue and has even actively facilitated industry groups in their bid to generate pro-trapping comments to the Game Commission,” stated Mary Katherine Ray of the Sierra Club. “While we witnessed the collusion, the agency has failed to provide those public records to us as part of a sunshine request,” Ray added.
In June, after reading blog posts that implied secret conversations and meetings between trappers and the Game Department, the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians propounded a request for documents that asked for all documents relating to meetings and correspondence between industry groups and the state game agency.
Last week, wildlife advocates made digital copies of the Department’s records, but the agency response was marred by gaps of omission.
As part of its document response, the Game and Fish Department provided portions of email conversations, without including the entire threads. In several instances, it failed to attach documents referenced in the emails. In other cases, it showed emails generated by industry groups, but failed to include Department responses. Other problems plagued the document disclosure:
- Documents indicate that Game and Fish officials met with the Sportsmen and Landowners’ Coalition,* which is comprised of pro-trapping groups, about the trapping rules on June 16, 2011. The agency provided no records of the meeting except emails that tangentially reference that meeting.
- The Department’s documents also revealed that a Department employee circulated a petition from the New Mexico Trappers Association supporting the practice of trapping to other Department personnel, and even solicited their signatures as part of the Game Commission’s process. Department staff forwarded pro-trap letters to Game Commissioners, but apparently did not do the same with those that opposed traps on public lands.
- In comparison, the Department also received a request from conservation and animal welfare groups asking for a trap ban on public lands. This letter was electronically carbon copied to members of New Mexico Congressional delegation, the Governor, the Attorney General, and other elected officials but there is no documentation of any internal discussion regarding this letter from the Department.
“The records show that Department officials took an active role in advocating for the practice of trapping, that they colluded with industry groups, but then hid the public’s business by omitting to produce public documents,” said Wendy Keefover of WildEarth Guardians.
In June, WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and Animal Protection of New Mexico requested that the Game Commission consider a trapping ban on New Mexico’s public lands. Instead of noting the growing support for the ban, the agency’s agenda briefings for the Commission’s Clayton meeting do not even include the citizens’ trap-ban alternative. The wildlife agency recommended that:
- The trapping ban in the Mexican gray wolf recovery area be lifted despite the fact that 14 highly-endangered Mexican wolves have been trapped since 2002. Two wolves required full-leg amputations, while others lost digits.
- Trapping be expanded year-round on other special lands, which previously enjoyed trapping prohibitions. Those areas include portions of the Wild Rivers Recreation Area of the Rio Grande, the Valle Vidal, a portion of the Vermejo Ranch, and the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
- That Wildlife Management Areas be opened to trapping at the discretion of the Director of the Game and Fish Department.
In an effort to expand public support for a trap ban, the groups have formed a coalition called “TrapFreeNM.org.” With its network of petition gatherers and using social and electronic media, the coalition has generated well over 7,000 signatures, emails, and letters to the Game Commission in support of the trap ban.
“We know from polling and the huge amount of public comment generated in the past few months that there is a vast sea of support for a public land trap ban and for conserving wolves, but the agency is thwarting the public’s process,” added Ray.
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* The Sportsmen and Landowers’ coalition includes the New Mexico Trappers Association, the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association, the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, the New Mexico Wild Sheep Foundation, the Farm Credit of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Council of Outfitters.
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