ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico residents now have an advantage over out-of-state hunters when it comes to landing licenses to hunt the state’s bighorn sheep, oryx and ibex thanks to a federal court ruling issued Monday.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo lifted a long-standing injunction that had prevented the state Game and Fish Department from allocating licenses to hunt the three species based on residency.
Armijo, responding to a motion filed by the department, found the injunction was no longer equitable because of changes in the law and court rulings in other states that have backed up quota systems that benefit resident hunters.
The injunction stemmed from a legal fight in the 1970s in which David Terk of Texas challenged New Mexico’s higher fees and lower quotas for nonresident hunters. He claimed his equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated, which resulted a federal judge prohibiting New Mexico from imposing quotas when it came to bighorn sheep, oryx and ibex.
“This is an important decision and a huge win for New Mexico hunters,” said Paul Kienzle, chairman of the New Mexico Game Commission. “It’s been a long fight, but New Mexicans now have a good shot at those quality hunts, as intended by the governor and the state Legislature.”
The Game and Fish Department said it will reinstate quotas starting with this year’s draw to give state residents the same advantage they have now when applying for licenses to hunt other big game animals such as deer and elk.
Currently, residents receive 84 percent of all public licenses issued through drawings. Nonresidents get 6 percent and the rest go to hunters who use outfitters.
New Mexico sportsmen’s groups had argued that resident hunters had received as little as 7 percent of some bighorn ram hunts because of the injunction.
Despite equal odds for drawing a license to hunt bighorn sheep, oryx and ibex, state officials say nonresidents would often get a disproportionately high number of the licenses because so many of them applied for the limited licenses.
According to a court brief filed by the New Mexico Wildlife Federal in support of lifting the injunction, New Mexico residents drew just one of 16 bighorn ram tags in 2012. Without the injunction, that number would have been about 13.
Santa Fe attorney David Gomez, who filed the brief on behalf of the group, said changes in the legal landscape have helped to solidify the constitutionality of draw systems that give resident hunters in many Western states preference.
When it came to drawing a tag for bighorn sheep, oryx or ibex, Gomez said “the system was upside down for New Mexico hunters.”
Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said the injunction resulted in “blatant discrimination” for New Mexico hunters for more than 30 years.
The state made an unsuccessful attempt to overturn the injunction in 1997. In 2012, the Wildlife Federation pressed the Game Commission to appeal, and the Game and Fish Department followed with its motion in early 2013.