Posted: Mar 24, 2014 6:03 PM
Updated: Mar 24, 2014 6:03 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) The days of out-of-state hunters having better odds than New Mexico residents of landing a license to hunt the state's bighorn sheep, oryx and ibex came to an end Monday with a ruling in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo lifted a long-standing injunction that had put resident hunters at the bottom of the list for drawing licenses to hunt the three species.
Armijo, responding to a motion filed by the state Game and Fish 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.
"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.
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.