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SANTA FE — After months of debate, the New Mexico Game Commission has finally set the record straight: hunters, anglers and trappers who venture onto private property need written permission or their trophy takes could be seized.

The commission on Thursday approved amendments to the state's hunting and fishing manner and method rule, saying it's unlawful to hunt or capture wild game on private property if the landowner hasn't granted permission.

Much of the debate centered on whether private property had to be posted as such, with sportsmen's groups arguing they should not have to bear all of the responsibility if landowners fail to mark their property.

R.J. Kirkpatrick of the state Game and Fish Department said the department visited constituents across New Mexico and held a public hearing in January before settling on language that was equitable for sportsmen and landowners.

"We went through a lot of twists and turns," he said.

Aside from requiring written permission for hunting or fishing on posted private property, the new requirements say it's illegal to hunt or fish on unposted property if the landowner has informed the sportsman he cannot be there.

It's also illegal if a hunter or angler knowingly enters private property regardless of whether it's posted.

The consequence for violating the rule is that any wild game will be subject to seizure.

The private property issue took center stage when former Game and Fish director Bruce Thompson was accused of illegally shooting a deer on the Diamond T Ranch during a 2007 hunt.

Thompson, who had a valid deer hunting license, said he believed he was on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, based on coordinates entered in his global positioning system unit.

The Game Commission last fall revoked his hunting privileges as punishment.

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation, a group that represents thousands of sportsmen, said the amended rule clarifies what's expected of hunters and anglers.

"This ensures that the law-abiding sportsman who inadvertently crosses an unmarked boundary is not penalized like a poacher," said Joel Gay, spokesman for the group. "We have long supported stiff penalties for people who knowingly trespass to hunt or fish and we think this is a sensible piece of rule-making."

John Boretsky of Albuquerque argued that New Mexico is a checkerboard of federal, state, tribal and private lands and the clause "knowingly enter upon any private property" will provide a way out for hunters and anglers.

"I think you're looking at a slippery slope here," he told commissioners. "... If you catch someone with a dead animal, are they going to admit that they knew it was private land? I don't think so."

He also argued that it's "not equal justice" for private land hunters who find themselves on public land. Once those hunters stray onto public land, their licenses become invalid.

Commissioner Tom Arvas said he believes most private landowners who offer hunting and fishing are good about letting sportsmen know the boundaries, but public hunters have a greater responsibility to know their surroundings.

"With a public hunter, there's so many different markings and so many different areas that he needs to be really up to speed," Arvas said.
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