It’s a multiple choice . . .

As we continue to attempt to protect the landowners who care for New Mexico’s wildlife, messages out of the New Mexico Tax & Revenue Department (TRD) become more bizarre. To recap, in late September numerous landowners who receive elk authorizations for use on their property received letters from the TRD stating that they may be liable for gross receipts tax on those authorizations.

Landowners have the option of filing for a managed audit. A managed audit provides for the landowner to file the information for the years they choose in terms of income that may have been received from the sale of those elk authorizations. You turn in your managed audit and you will get a bill from the TRD with 180 days to pay it. However, in applying for that managed audit, you give up your right to protest whatever that tax bill is.

If you choose the managed audit option, you will likely be relieved of penalties and interest on the back taxes that you will owe. If you have a Combined Reporting System (CRS) number from TRD, you are liable for gross receipts tax back six (6) years. If you do not have a CRS number, you are liable for taxes back seven (7) years. There were mixed signals on when the request for a completed managed audit deadline was, it now seems clear that December 31, 2015 is the deadline.

However apparently you have a multiple choice as to what you want to do if you receive elk authorizations but do not derive any income from them.

  1. TRD staff first told folks calling in that the Department would estimate the value of the authorizations and tax accordingly. Then they backed up and told callers that they didn’t need to do anything.
  2. Then the TRD stated in a meeting that even if you don’t derive income you need to file with zeros to avoid an audit.
  3. The word on November 15 was “If they have not sold any licenses, a letter to TRD stating that fact will suffice. However, like any tax situation, if TRD finds contradictory information, it will be subject to audit.”

It is worth noting that none of these options have been documented with TRD letterhead or signature.

Finally, if you opt not to file for a managed audit and you received a letter in September, you can expect an assessment and a full audit in 2016. The TRD says that the assessments will be based on “third party” information used to determine the value of the authorizations you received.

In plowing our way through this issue, we have found things that appear to be arbitrary and capricious at best. We have learned that the TRD sent out some 30,000 letters in late September. Obviously the letters went to more than just landowners receiving authorizations. They are planning on sending out another 90,000 in the future. Given that it is now December, the expectation would be that the additional letters will go out in 2016.

It appears that those receiving letters in 2016 will be liable for taxes one less year than those who got September 2015 letters. Isn’t that unequal taxation?

TRD announced at their New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau (NMFLB) meeting that they got the names and addresses of landowners from the New Mexico Department Game & Fish (NMDGF) website. They just select the 600 names receiving the largest number of elk authorizations. Isn’t that profiling or targeting? Is that legal? Surely it cannot be politically correct.

This issue has generated lots of interest from members of the New Mexico Legislature. The NMCGA is working on potential legislation for the upcoming 2016 Legislature. The Interim Revenue Stabilization & Tax Policy Committee will meet in at the State Capitol on December 15 and 16. A bill exempting landowners receiving elk authorizations will be heard at approximately 12:10 p.m. (legislative time) on December 16 in Room 322 of the State Capitol. Everyone affected by this gross receipts tax is urged to show up at that meeting.

If you happen to see your legislators, you might remind them of the public service that landowners provide in habitat, water and supplemental feed for the state’s wildlife.

Where are the animal rightists when you need them?

If you missed the November meeting of the New Mexico State Game Commission in Roswell, you missed a good one! The morning started out with the appeal hearing for Turner Endangered Species Fund (TESF) (aka TEAM TURNER) Appeals of the Denial of Applications to Import and Possess Mexican Gray Wolves. TEAM TURNER’s Mike Phillips presented an appeal of the Department’s denial of the TESF’s application to Import and Possess Mexican Gray Wolves on the Ladder Ranch.

It was a show that deserved to be under the big tent. While this sort of appeal is a quasi judicial process and lawyers do the presenting, Phillips took great delight in often pointing out that the attorney sitting next to him was probably squirming in his chair, but that he was going to speak his peace anyway. And he did, pontificating for the better part of an hour … or more.

There were so many jewels in his presentation and his answers to questions from the Commission it is hard to know where to start. Among the best was his statement that wolves don’t need to be fed every day -— in fact most dogs don’t need to be fed every day he says. That’s why there are so many overweight dogs in this country.

Unfortunately there was nary an animal rightist in the crowd willing to show any dismay at such a dastardly statement. Can you imagine if word got out that ANYONE was promoting not feeding a pet on a daily basis? How would the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filch money from unsuspecting widows and other tender hearts if thinner dogs were in?

But that was his most frivolous statement. There were many, many more serious things he said.

We learned for the first time that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is planning on resuming the recovery planning process for the wolves … with only input from the science side of the issue … in December 2015. That means federal and state agencies along with the conservation biologists, including Phillips, who have been intent on multiple populations of hundreds of wolves in the expanded recovery areas of New Mexico, Arizona, southern Utah and southern Colorado.

When asked whether the people living with the wolves would be represented, this was the response:

We are convening a small handful of scientists and state reps from Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, SEMARNAT and CONANP (federal agencies in Mexico), and FWS in December for a workshop to look at technical information related to revising the 1982 Mexican wolf recovery plan. We plan to hold three such workshops over the winter/spring. FWS plans to have a completed revised recovery plan by the end of 2017. We have not made final decisions regarding the role of the entire recovery team in the development of the plan. At this point, we are focusing on assessing best available science in close coordination with the state agencies and Mexico.

It should be good news that the planning process is restarting. However, given what was coming out of the “science team” when the recovery planning was halted, there is no warm, fuzzy feeling about this. Clearly the FWS will never learn that ignoring the people living on the ground and suffering the consequences of wolves for all of society will lead to no good.

Just as clearly the resumption is as a result of litigation pressure and the hope of making some of it go away. Unfortunately limiting the process won’t result in less litigation.

Phillips was verbose in his criticism of the FWS wolf program, noting that the seven-(7)year-old wolf that was released from TEAM TURNER and then had to be taken due to depredation, should probably never have been released due to his age.

He also made much of the fact that the Turner permit had been denied during the same time period that a permit from a zoo was approved. Phillips failed to tell “the rest of the story.”

A permit was indeed approved for a zoo … with restrictions. When the zoo learned that the wolf they wanted to import would not ever be allowed to be released in “the wild,” nor would any of her offspring because they had been on public display and therefore habituated to humans, they choose not to exercise the permit and import the wolf.

There was more, but enough about Phillips and TEAM TURNER. On to better things.

SWAP got SWATTED

Since late July NMCGA and others have devoted a great deal of time to the NMDGF’s Strategic Wildlife Action Plan (SWAT) which can provide funding from the federal government to the tune of about $1 million per year. The funds are to be used for species of concern to keep them from being listed as endangered.

The SWAP was the next generation of the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS) that was submitted to the FWS in 2005. The CWCS was an offensive document that nearly resulted in fist fights at one Commission meeting at the time. NMFLB’s Joel Alderete and I are still arguing over who stopped whom from throwing the first punch.

We had higher hopes for the 2015 SWAP but as the deadline drew near for filing the document, it became clear that though there has been some slight improvement in the document, it remained fatally flawed. The Game Commission and the NMDGF Director both saw to it that there was language making clear that the document was for planning purposes only and that the public had the opportunity to comment on the full document.

But there remained 455 species in New Mexico in the document, including more than 30 species that are already listed as endangered. The language relative to natural resource use was mitigated some between the first and last drafts but remained damning to both grazing and oil and gas. Much of the science used in the document was cherry-picked to produce a one-sided point of view and demonstrated a paucity of historical knowledge that is readily available at New Mexico State University.

At their November meeting the Game Commission unanimously voted against submitting the current SWAP to the FWS. The NMCGA and others are extremely grateful for this action.

This does not mean that SWAP goes away, but rather a new plan will be developed that includes input from natural resource users and provides a true picture of conservation needs for wildlife species in New Mexico. Unfortunately the action does mean that FWS funding will likely be curtailed for the time being.