EPLUS: The Elk Private Land Use System

Private land is vital to elk in New Mexico. Private (47%) and tribal lands (9.7%) form a significant fraction of land in New Mexico. These private lands provide critical habitat to the elk of New Mexico.

The State of New Mexico created the Elk Private Land Use System (EPLUS) to “Establish an equitable and flexible system that recognizes the contributions of private lands and landowners to the management of elk and their habitats, while providing hunting opportunities on private lands, and to support appropriate, biologically sound, and effective harvest goals set by the department for elk1.”

Providing New Mexico landowners with elk-hunting authorizations incentivizes them to conserve vital elk habitat and “keep the farm” versus subdividing their land — avoiding habitat fragmentation2.

Cow elk at sunrise on an EPLUS participating ranch, GMU 4, New Mexico

Through EPLUS, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) distributes a portion of the State’s elk hunting prospects to qualifying private landowners in Primary (PMZ) and Special (SPZ) Management zones based on a habitat scoring system.

Any area of the State not in the Primary Management Zone or Special Management Zone is in the Secondary Management Zone3.  The NMDGF does not allocate or assign private land elk authorizations or licenses to ranches in the Secondary Management Zone, instead, licensed hunters can purchase a private land elk hunting license “over-the-counter” (OTC) with an appropriate ranch code and written permission from the landowner to hunt on that ranch4.

Thirteen western states utilize systems that allocate landowner permits based on herd management goals and habitat protection.

New Mexico suffers from extreme poverty, especially in its rural communities.

Rural communities in New Mexico are often “land-rich and cash-poor.” EPLUS helps rural New Mexicans financially support their traditional farms and ranches. Without their EPLUS-derived income and food security, landowners risk selling off or subdividing their lands. Maintaining elk habitat and migration corridors on private lands is vital to the health of elk in New Mexico.

EPLUS allows a proven system to attract hunters to areas of high-poverty. Hunters provide significant economic inflows to these rural communities.

EPLUS works for rural landowners and the surrounding communities. EPLUS enables substantial New Mexico Gross Receipts tax revenue and lodgers tax revenue in the poorest areas of New Mexico. EPLUS also provides valuable jobs to local guides and outfitters in our rural communities.

Footnotes and References

  1. N.M. Code R. §, NMAC – Rp, NMAC, 10-17-2005, Adopted by New Mexico Register, Volume XXIX, Issue 24, December 27, 2018, eff. 4/1/2019
  2. New Mexico State Action Plan, For Implementation of Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3362: “Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors,” available at https://www.nfwf.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/NewMexico2020SAP.pdf
  3. NMAC management zone” shall mean areas of the state that are not part of the primary or special management zone.”
  4. See NMAC – N, 4-1-2019