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LAS CRUCES – David Soules is one of two Las Crucens newly appointed to the New Mexico Game Commission. With more than “50 years of experience hiking, camping, canoeing, hunting and fishing on public lands and waters in southern New Mexico,” according to his vita, Soules was appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March to an at-large position on the commission representing conservation interests. Commission Vice Chair Roberta Salazar-Henry is also from Las Cruces.
Soules, whose brother, Bill, is a Las Cruces state senator, and sister, Marilee, is a longtime local political activist, is a native Las Crucen and co-author of “Exploring Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.” He has a BS in physics and a PhD in mechanical engineering, both from New Mexico State University.
Soules developed a lifelong interest in the outdoors at an early age. He started hunting with his brother, Bill, often adding rabbit, dove and quail to the family’s dinner menu. And he hunted and fished with an older friend, Jim Bates, while Soules was in his teens, he said. (Coincidentally, a fellow member of the Game Commission is named Jimmy Bates, but it’s not the same man.)
“You recognize that about every sportsman,” Soules said. “We all have a story of who got us started. That relationship with the next generation is an important element of outdoorsmanship, he said.
Soules also remembers working with NMSU wildlife professor Sanford Steinmetz 40-45 years ago on “a few outdoor projects,” including putting fencing around stock tanks so deer wouldn’t jump in and drown. He’s also been a volunteer on conservation projects for the past four decades in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, state Land Office and other local, state and national groups.
Realizing that magazines were the only source of information about hunting, Soules became a founding member of Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen, which encourages hunters and fishermen to represent their interests in fish, birds, mule deer, elk and other game animals and to provide a “common voice on things we thought mattered,” Soules said. He’s also a founding member the Las Cruces chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Mule Deer Foundation and is a member of Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen, Back Country Hunters and Anglers, the National and New Mexico Wildlife Federations, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited.
Soules joined the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NMWA) board in 2010. Being an NMWA member “really opened my eyes to what you can do with a coalition of interested parties,” he said, including wildlife advocacy groups, sportsmen, outdoor outfitters, private landowners and elected officials.
Wildlife, especially species found in southwest New Mexico, are unique and precious, Soules said. Understanding it and investing in it (are critical) so we don’t lose it,” he said.
Soules is also a champion of hunters and fisherman. “I’ve come to recognize that sportsmen are one of, if not the first, advocates of sustainability,” he said. “For the past 150 years, hunters and anglers have led the crusade for wildlife conservation.” Sportsmen imposed the 1900 Lacey Act on themselves, Soules said, to prevent the extinction of deer, turkeys, bison and other species.
He is also an outspoken advocate for the North American Model of Wildlife Management, developed in the mid-19th century, whose seven pillars include that wildlife is held in the public trust, that there should be hunting opportunities for all and a reliance on science for wildlife management. The model is “designed to embrace change as science changes,” Soules said. It also mandates “non-frivolous use,” meaning wildlife can be killed for food, fur, in self-defense and for property protection, but not merely for antlers, horns or feathers.
Very few areas of the world “have recognized or emphasized the public’s interest” in wildlife management, Soules said. In Europe, he said, wildlife “became the sole province of rich people and landowners. Landed gentry owned wildlife and enjoyed it.” In the U.S. people didn’t want to follow that model, Soules said, so the public trust doctrine, founded in Roman law, became an important part of American law and culture, mandating that certain national and cultural resources be preserved for public use, including wildlife and waterways.
The Lacey Act and other federal legislation, along with hunting licenses, provide revenue to many wildlife organizations, Soules said. As a result, he said, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is the only self-sustaining agency in state government.
Bringing all parties to the table in the management of wildlife has meant a “common, unifying theme across political parties,” said Soules, a registered Independent. “I think that’s a wonderful thing,” he said.
Soules said he and other game commissioners will be “hearing from lots of constituents,” and he is confident “this commission is going to listen. We want to do what’s best. Wildlife is something we all treasure. If you don’t take care of it now, you can’t get it back.”
Even with a lifetime of participation in hunting and wildlife management, Soules said he has been surprised as a Game Commission member by “how many people have a vested interest in wildlife,” including both game and nongame species.
Major issues coming before the commission include stream access are trapping regulations, he said.
“I’m honored to be on the commission,” Soules said.
Contact Soules at David.Soules@state.nm.us. Visit www.wildlife.state.nm.us.
Mike Cook may be contacted at email@example.com.