FARMINGTON — Fifth-grade students from a Farmington elementary school are working with students across the state in an effort to increase the penalty for poaching crimes.
Students in Wendy Carpenter's class at Ladera Elementary School are collaborating with the "Wild Friends" project organized by the University of New Mexico School of Law on a "memorial" for consideration by lawmakers that would support legislation to increase the penalty for certain poaching to a fourth-degree felony from a misdemeanor.
Memorials are expressions of legislative intent and usually are written as requests, not demands.
Carpenter said her current and previous students have been enthusiastic about wildlife projects and about 20 other different classes around the state are also working on the memorial.
"The kids love that kind of stuff," Carpenter said. "They had a choice of three different projects and they were overwhelmingly interested in this project on poaching."
Students in Carpenter's class last school year worked on a memorial promoting wildlife corridors and safety zones on highways.
In conjunction with Farmington attorney Emet Rudolfo and New Mexico Game and Fish employee Brad Ryan, the students have been learning the ins and outs of what it takes for legislation to be passed by the state House of Representatives or Senate.
Student Maya McGee said the protection of animals is important and felt good about working on this project.
"What I learned is that poaching should be stopped," McGee said. "It deprives hunters from doing what they do legally. It's not fair for the hunters."
The classroom has been working on answering questions in groups in relation to learning about state statues including what a felony and misdemeanor are and what penalties are associated with each charge.
The students also researched the different types of poaching and learned how trophy poaching -- where the hunter is looking for an animal with a large rack and leaves the carcass to rot -- can waste deer and elk.
Carpenter said the students have been learning about how the branches of government function and the work involved in passing a memorial or bill from the beginning to end.
Student Isabela Rudolfo learned about the consequences of being convicted of a felony in the state means for hunters, who could lose their right to own a gun.
"We want to increase it to a felony because if you would take away their gun, they might want to think twice about doing it," Rudolfo said. "If you had a higher consequence, they would want to think twice about it and not do it. They wouldn't want their firearms to be taken away."
The class will be traveling to the New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe at the end of January for a tour of the building. It is possible they will present their project before a House or Senate committee.