AP NEWS

New Mexico governor done with leadership on wildlife panel

January 1, 2020 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has decided not to reappoint one of her own picks to a panel that oversees hunting, fishing and wildlife management across the state.

The Democratic governor had named Joanna Prukop and others to the Game Commission in May. After a long career in wildlife and natural resources management, Prukop became the first woman to chair the commission, filling a term that was set to expire Jan. 1.

The governor’s office confirmed Tuesday that Prukop would not be reappointed, citing some disagreements about policy. Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor, did not elaborate on those disagreements but said Prukop’s service was appreciated.

“It didn’t work out, and a change in direction felt like the best course forward,” he said. “We wish Ms. Prukop well and we look forward to the continued good work of the commission.”

The governor’s office said it has a candidate in mind who has “experience and leadership qualities.” It was not immediately clear how soon the governor would announce her new pick.

Hunting, angling and wildlife advocates voiced concerns about the governor’s decision, saying the commission had done a good job in recent months with Prukop at the helm.

“Joanna Prukop was without question the most qualified and best chair this commission has ever seen so for this to happen is beyond infuriating. I’m speechless,” said Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, a group that represents hunters and anglers throughout the state.

Prukop previously served as the secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department during former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration after working for the state Game and Fish Department for more than 25 years. She also served in former President Barack Obama’s administration as a three-term appointee to the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council.

Prukop did not immediately return a message seeking comment from The Associated Press. She told the wildlife federation that she was “hugely disappointed” since the commission was just beginning its work.

One of the most controversial issues the commission was confronted with over the last year and will still have to deal with in the coming months is a rule that governs public access to streams and rivers adjacent to private property.

Prukop and other commissioners voted in November to reconsider the rule. Adopted by a previous commission appointed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, the rule allows landowners to petition the Game and Fish Department to certify waters on private property as “non-navigable” and prohibit public access without written permission.

The department has approved several applications certifying waters as “non-navigable,” but outdoor groups have argued that the rule should be repealed and that the New Mexico Constitution specifies that the state’s rivers and streams belong to the public.

Large landowners in the state have spoken out against changing the rule or allowing public access.

The governor’s office did not address questions about whether there has been any political pressure regarding the issue.

The Game Commission is set to meet Jan. 17 in Las Cruces and its expected that commissioners will select a new chair and vice chair. The commission also had planned to take public comment on the stream issue starting in early 2020.

The attorney general’s office has said it would work with commissioners to ensure whatever rule is ultimately adopted balances landowner interests in protecting their property from trespass and damage while ensuring New Mexicans’ rights of access to public waterways.