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Commission sinks fishing at sanctuary

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Fishing at the J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary will continue to be prohibited to preserve the wetlands ecosystem that has been established there.

Barry Mathison, a member of the Roswell Parks and Recreation Commission, said he requested the discussion be placed on the agenda for Monday’s meeting after being approached by several residents about allowing fishing there. However, after learning more about the sanctuary, he said he was against the idea.

The subject was placed on the agenda for discussion only. No vote was taken, and at the end of the discussion, Mathison suggested it never be brought up for an action item.

Steven Smith, representing the J. Kenneth and Alice Smith Family Foundation, spoke during the virtual meeting about the history of the sanctuary and the sanctity of the ecosystem.

The Smith Foundation partnered with the city, New Mexico Fish and Game and individuals and organizations in Roswell to create the wetlands.

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It was established by a vote of the Roswell City Council in October 2001 on 15 acres at 401 N. Sycamore Ave. Some of the land was donated by private owners including the Jack Chew family. The Nazarene Church, adjacent to the sanctuary at 501 N. Sycamore Ave., granted a 25-year easement for the construction of part of the trail.

The sanctuary allows for four elements needed for maintenance of wild bird populations, Smith said — food, water, protection from predators and places to nest.

“The first element that we did was create the wetlands. I refer to them as a wetlands because that’s a critical-balance type of thing. Wetlands are protected all across the nation in order to provide habitat for wild birds,” Smith said.

“This ecosystem that’s been created is very fragile, and so if you have elements coming in that are using this dedicated acreage for something other than what it was intended, you have a possibility of damaging and ruining the ecosystem that’s out there,” he said.

Fishing can be a threat to the wildlife, Smith said. At the pond by the Spring River Zoo, he said, birds were often found wrapped up in hooks and fishing line.

In addition, the sanctuary pond has a rubber liner and water oxidation system that could be damaged by fish hooks, he said.

“The rubber liner came with a 20-year warranty and the company that provided that and installed it, they were very definite about the things that could void the warranty. One of those things was activities by people, and that could very well be fish hooks,” Smith said.

“It’s very critical we maintain the integrity of the system, as well as the liner. We can’t do that by changing our focus of what a bird sanctuary is meant to be,” he said.

There are two species of fish stocked in the pond, Smith said: the gambusia or mosquitofish that grows to be about 3 inches long and eats mosquito larva, and grass carp that can grow to 2 to 3 feet long and eat moss and other aquatic vegetation.

Jim Burress, Special Services and Parks director, said the public’s lack of awareness of the sanctuary’s purpose is a lack of knowledge.

“They just don’t know and they have time on their hands,” due to the pandemic, he said.

Burress said he will work with the city’s Public Affairs department to help spread more information about the sanctuary.

There are signs at the sanctuary saying fishing, swimming and wading are prohibited, but Burress said the city will increase the signage and work with the Code Enforcement Department to make sure people aren’t fishing there.

Work on the pond at the zoo continues, Burress said, and fishing will be allowed there.

“We will work with Game and Fish and we’ll actually have a management program to restock that, but these ponds aren’t set up that way,” Burress said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.