SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The state Game and Fish Department asked a federal court on Tuesday to lift a decades-old order preventing the agency from providing New Mexico residents with the majority of annual licenses to hunt bighorn sheep, ibex and oryx.
The department wants the U.S. District Court to lift an injunction in place since 1977, when the court determined that New Mexico discriminated against out-of-state hunters by limiting licenses that would be issued to them for the three species.
Since then, New Mexico has revamped its system that uses a yearly drawing to allocate licenses to hunt elk or other big game on public land. A 1997 law established a quota system to ensure that New Mexicans receive the vast majority of licenses for elk, deer and antelope. However, the department can’t give New Mexicans that same preference for ibex, oryx and bighorn sheep licenses because of the court order. In 1977, a quota system was in place only for those three species, which are highly sought after by sportsmen because there are not many opportunities to hunt them on public lands.
New Mexico issued only 40 licenses for bighorn sheep in the 2012-2013 hunting season and 45 percent went to non-residents, who paid $3,180 for the right to hunt the big game animal. Only 1,668 oryx licenses were granted and nearly 10 percent went to non-residents. There were 474 ibex licenses issued and about 23 percent went to non-residents, according to department records.
For elk, deer and antelope, the state earmarks 84 percent of public licenses for New Mexicans. Six percent go to non-residents and 10 percent are earmarked for hunters — regardless of whether they’re residents or not — who contract with an outfitter.
The department, in its legal arguments submitted to the court, contends that New Mexico should be able to use license quotas for bighorn sheep, oryx and ibex because a federal appeals court in 2005 upheld a license allocation plan in Wyoming that’s similar to New Mexico’s system.
“If the court vacates the injunction, it will allow the State Game Commission to guarantee New Mexico hunters the full opportunity provided by New Mexico law to hunt ibex, oryx and bighorn sheep,” Richard Wellborn, the department’s general counsel, said in a statement.