Commentary: The Southwest Environmental Center and Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club call on the NM Legislature to take legal action to block the proposed transfer of the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park from NM State Parks to the NM Department of Game and Fish. According to information provided at a meeting held by the agencies last night, the transfer is moving ahead despite significant opposition from the Legislature and public.
“This move by two agencies in the executive branch to go forward with the transfer without seeking legislative approval, and without any meaningful effort to seek public input, is the height of arrogance, and an insult to the many community groups and individuals who worked for years to get the park established, and to the bipartisan group of state legislators who secured more than $2 million since 2004 for the park’s creation,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center.
If the transfer goes forward, the site will no longer be a state park but instead will come under the management authority of the NM Game Commission, a 7-member body appointed by the governor that oversees NMDGF. The Game Commission has been criticized by wildlife advocates in recent years for its positions on numerous issues, including its failure to stop wildlife killing contests, its opposition to Mexican wolf recovery, and its approval of recreational trapping of mountain lions, making NM only one of two states to allow this activity (the other being Texas).
“Despite statements to the contrary by the agencies, management of the site will change under NMDGF, because it has a different mission and constituency than State Parks,” said Howie Dash, chair of the Southern NM Group Sierra Club. “State parks provide recreational opportunities and natural resource education to the general public, whereas NMDGF primarily serves hunters and anglers,” said Dash.
NMDGF does not receive general funds from the Legislature, making it far less accountable to the public than State Parks. NMDGF receives 60 percent of its budget from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, and 39 percent from federal funding derived from taxes on equipment associated with hunting and fishing, such as guns, ammunition and fishing tackle.
NMDGF has previously said it plans to remove the existing educational exhibits at MVBSP and possibly relocate them to another park. Other plans include providing meeting space for hunting, shooting and fishing organizations, and the NM Game Commission. Planned “educational” programs include hunter education, archery instruction, fishing clinics, and other activities aimed at engaging youth in hunting and fishing.
The agencies say the transfer is necessary because MVBSP lacks staff and funding to keep it open. However, State Parks has done little to promote visitation in recent years, and has failed to fill the superintendent position even though it was funded by the Legislature. In addition, State Parks has failed to seriously consider alternatives to closing the park, such as joint management with NMDGF or seeking assistance from community groups.
“Under this administration, State Parks has deliberately tried to starve MVBSP to justify giving it away in a cynical strategy to reduce the number of parks in the state,” said Bixby. “The Legislature should take whatever steps are required to keep MVBSP open until a new administration is in place that is committed to keeping all of NM’s parks open.”