By LESLI ALLISON
CEO, Western Landowners Alliance
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers are leading a campaign to eliminate the state’s Elk Private Land Use System (EPLUS). They are doing this in the hopes of boosting by a tiny percentage the number of bull elk licenses available in the public draw. It’s not about hunting for meat. It’s about hunting for horns.
Here is why this is a bad idea for wildlife and for New Mexico:
- Private lands provide 50 percent of the wildlife habitat in the state, often at significant personal cost to landowners. Hunters consistently advocate for increasing elk numbers, yet this growing elk population– the 6th largest in the nation–now consumes an estimated $35 million per year in forage on private land, making it difficult for some family farms and ranches to stay in business. The EPLUS program works (at no cost to taxpayers) by providing a limited number of elk license authorizations to private lands that are supporting the state’s elk populations. Landowners can use, donate or sell those authorizations. New Mexico is already losing an average of 218,000 agricultural acres per year. Eliminating the program would accelerate the loss of land, agricultural production, habitat and all wildlife species.
- Eliminating EPLUS would accelerate inequity. Proponents of eliminating EPLUS would have the public believe that all landowners are wealthy. However, according to the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER), New Mexico is an unusually “land-rich, cash-poor” state. We rank 49th in poverty but have a higher than national average of home and land ownership. Many families have been on the same land for generations.: “Of the 25,044 farms in New Mexico, one in three have Hispanic/Latino producers and one in four have Native American producers. Eliminating EPLUS would directly discriminate against smaller farms and ranches that bear the costs of providing essential winter habitat but have little or no ability to charge trespass fees. If anything, more EPLUS tags are needed to provide fair compensation to those who are incurring unsustainable costs for the benefit of public wildlife.
- Eliminating EPLUS and reducing non-resident and outfitter licenses would hurt rural economies. This is because non-resident hunters significantly outspend resident hunters on food, supplies, services and accommodations. Non-resident hunters also spend much more in rural communities while resident hunters concentrate spending in urban areas.
- Eliminating EPLUS would reduce hunting opportunities for residents and non-residents alike. Without EPLUS, far fewer landowners will allow hunting on their land. This means we will have more hunters on the public land and fewer on private land. More elk will then move onto private land during the hunting season where public hunters cannot reach them. As elk concentrate on private land, increasing costs to landowners, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish will be under pressure to reduce elk populations, further lowering hunting opportunities. While eliminating EPLUS would possibly result in a minor, temporary bump in resident bull elk draw tags, in short order it will have the opposite effect, reducing habitat, elk populations and hunting opportunities for all.
Many states have addressed these challenges through private land permit programs like EPLUS. While sportsmen would like to see more tags in the public draw and landowners would like to see more tags available through EPLUS, the system overall has worked well for New Mexico for a long time. It’s why we still have some of the best wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities, in the nation. Let’s keep it that way.