CPLA Comments on Proposed Elk Rule Changes

The Alliance has submitted a comment letter to the New Mexico Game Commission regarding proposed elk rule changes. You can read the proposed changes and view instructions on how to comment on the NMGF website here (see Proposed Changes to the Elk Rule 19.31.14 NMAC).

Below is the full text of the Alliance’s letter to the Commission:

To the New Mexico Game Commission:

The Chama Peak Land Alliance (Alliance) is a diverse group of conservation-minded landowners committed to embracing and practicing responsible land, water and wildlife stewardship in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico for the benefit of our tri-cultural heritage and for generations to come. In northern New Mexico, the private landowners represented by the Alliance own and manage ecologically important private lands, including primary migration corridors for mule deer and elk from high elevation summer ranges to lower elevation winter habitats. These landowners are invested in practicing good land and wildlife management to ensure the long-term viability of deer and elk populations in this landscape, as well as overall ecosystem health. Additionally, our rural communities are dependent on the tourism and hunting economy supported by healthy wildlife populations.

This letter is in regards to proposed changes to the elk rules (19.31.14 NMAC) and specifically the existing and proposed rules for GMU 4, a unit differentiated from other GMUs by the predominance of private vs. public land. Indeed, the entirety of GMU 4 consists of private land with the exception of the three state managed wildlife areas, the Rio Chama, the Humphrees, and the Sargents. Because of this predominance of private land GMU 4 is unique and the Alliance believes that it should be managed to take this uniqueness into account rather than managed identically to other units that include a higher proportion of public land. This area also includes important elk migratory corridors from high elevation habitats to lower elevation wintering grounds.

There has been a long-term decline in the calf:cow ratio in both the North-central elk herd (the herd in GMU 4) and in the regional elk herd. Declining herd productivity could lead to lower elk numbers and fewer bulls available for harvest in the long-term. While surrounding jurisdictions have responded to decreasing calf:cow ratios by reducing cow elk harvest, cow harvest in the North-central elk herd has increased substantially in the past 10 years, nearly doubling.  Bull elk harvest in the North-central herd also has trended sharply upward for the past 10 years. The Alliance recently contracted Tom Watts, of Southwest Wildlife Services, to complete an update of his 2014 assessment of mule deer and elk population data in the San Juan-Chama basin. This assessment indicated this regional population trend. The report can be found at: www.chamapeak.org/landowner-resources.

We offer the following comments and suggestions regarding elk management rules in GMU 4:

1) GMU 4 should be recognized as unique due the high prevalence of private land, with the exception of the wildlife management areas, and should be managed accordingly.

2) GMU 4 is currently managed as an opportunity unit similar to other units with different ratio of private:public ownership.  We suggest this unit should instead be managed as a trophy unit or as an opportunity unit with special restrictions, in order to better manage the elk cow:bull and cow:calf ratios in this population.   

3) We suggest shortening the hunt season for this GMU to allow elk to breed and migrate with less interference from hunting activity. For instance, starting the season to coincide with the season start on the WMAs in early October and ending on December 1 would reduce stress on elk during migration and potentially improve breeding success during the rut.  

4) Special Management Properties should be limited to the authorizations requested in the management plan and should not be allowed to transfer additional tags into the property.

5) The archery season on private land should be Sept. 1 through Sept 24. There is no need for a split season on private lands as these properties are already limited by authorizations and private landowners should be able to hunt their property the full season. 

We appreciate the opportunity to submit comments on the Department’s proposed changes to the elk rules in GMU 4. Our Board, staff, and private landowner members are deeply committed to working with each other, our communities, and our agency partners to practice and promote responsible land and wildlife management in New Mexico.

Please contact me with any questions regarding our comments in this letter or if we can be of further assistance. Thank you.