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Report: Game chief set up lawyer’s cougar kill

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Oklahoma City lawyer Jason Roselius had purchased a cougar license in New Mexico and had been waiting for just such a telephone call:

A cougar had been spotted on the Bidegain family’s T4 cattle ranch near Tucumcari. “It’s gonna be a good one,” Roselius was told by Larry Webb, a hunting agent and guide for the T4.

The lawyer made his way on Feb. 9 to Tucumcari, where he was met by Scott Bidegain, who at the time was chairman of the state Game Commission.

By the time Roselius and Bidegain got to the ranch, hunting dogs had a male cougar cornered in a cave.

Roselius got out of a truck, walked to the cave and killed the cougar with one shot from a .243-caliber rifle. He posed for a photograph with the cougar, Webb and two other men allegedly involved in the hunt. Bidegain snapped the photo.

SCOTT BIDEGAIN: Governor's Office asked him to resign from Game Commission

SCOTT BIDEGAIN: Governor’s Office asked him to resign from Game Commission

The cougar was gutted. Roselius wrote a check to Webb for $9,000 – $5,500 for the hunt and $3,500 as a tip for the guides.

The cougar hunt wasn’t just less than sporting; it was illegal, according to the state Department of Game and Fish. The recounting of the hunt is based on Game and Fish investigation reports, including signed statements by some of the men involved.

Under hunting regulations, a hunter who kills a cougar must be present continuously once any dog is released.

Also, although Roselius had purchased a cougar license in New Mexico, he had not bought a required game-hunting license and habitat management access validation stamp, according to Game and Fish.

On Feb. 17, in state Magistrate Court in Tucumcari, the department filed charges of unlawful hunting or fishing against Bidegain, Webb, of Newkirk in eastern New Mexico, and two others: Billy Ivy of Canyon, Texas, and Chad Hassell of Childress, Texas.

Bidegain told investigators that he, Ivy and Webb had an agreement to take hunters seeking cougars for $5,000. The T4 is one of the state’s largest ranches, with a reported 180,000 deeded acres.

Roselius was charged with unlawful hunting or fishing and unlawful hunting or fishing without a license. He and the others are awaiting arraignment. They face possible fines and jail time.

Roselius, 44, a law graduate of the University of Oklahoma, also has a home near Angel Fire and is a gun collector in addition to being a hunter. In 2010, he paid nearly $900,000 at auction for a shotgun used on a safari by President Theodore Roosevelt, according to published reports.

Bidegain, an appointee of Gov. Susana Martinez, resigned as chairman of the Game Commission the weekend before the charges were filed. His resignation letter said:

“Unfortunately, I was present during a hunting incident earlier this month that will result in charges being filed shortly. I believe that it is in the best interest of the Commission and the Department that I step down at this time. I think you should be proud to know that, throughout this incident, the officers at the Department acted honorably and professionally.”

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said Thursday that Game and Fish hadn’t shared details of its investigation with the Governor’s Office.

“We were briefed on their findings and were told they had enough evidence to charge him. Based on that information, our office asked Mr. Bidegain to resign,” Knell said in an email.

At the time of his resignation, Bidegain already was under fire for taking part and winning money in a coyote-killing contest in Nevada. Nine conservation groups had called for Martinez to remove him from the Game Commission.

Bidegain, Roselius, Hassell and Webb couldn’t be reached for comment for this story. They haven’t entered pleas to the hunting charges.

In a telephone interview, Ivy, who also hasn’t entered a plea, said there are “a lot of tree huggers in New Mexico” and the charge against him was a “little old bitty misdemeanor.”

“I’m sure we’ll have to pay a fine,” he said. “I hate that it happened.”

Ivy said he wasn’t part of any agreement to share in the fee paid by Roselius to hunt on the T4 ranch and that he hasn’t received any money as a result of the cougar kill.

The legal problems began shortly after the cougar hunt when Bidegain, Roselius, Ivy and Hassell met a Game and Fish conservation officer in the parking lot at McDonald’s in Tucumcari to have the cougar “pelt-tagged” by the officer, as required by hunting regulations.

Officer Elizabeth Glenn asked Roselius for his cougar license, but Roselius said that while he had the license number stored on his cellphone, he didn’t have a paper version.

Under hunting regulations, however, a cougar license must be blacked out or punched immediately after a kill, and the hunter must present both the license and the hide for pelt tagging by Game and Fish.

After leaving the McDonald’s, Glenn discovered in a records check that Roselius hadn’t purchased a game-hunting license and a habitat stamp to go along with his cougar license.

The officer met again with Roselius, who said Bidegain had advised him that he didn’t need a paper version of the license, according to investigation reports.

Glenn then asked Roselius to describe the events of the day of the cougar kill, and more problems emerged. The officer wrote:

“Mr. Roselius said when he arrived (at the T4 ranch) the dogs were already up in the hills because he could hear them barking. He and Mr. Bidegain hiked to the location where the dogs had cornered a cougar in a cave. Mr. Roselius told me he shot the cougar once in the chest and that it died shortly after.”

The results of Glenn’s investigation quickly moved up the chain of command at the Law Enforcement Division of Game and Fish, and a sergeant, major and colonel with the department met with Bidegain, Ivy and Webb on Feb. 11 at a New Mexico truck stop near the Texas border.

Col. Robert Griego wrote in an investigation report that Bidegain, while being interviewed separately, told him some of what Ivy and Webb were going to say.

When Bidegain was told the story seemed fabricated, Bidegain agreed, Griego wrote. The colonel said he then warned Bidegain that lying would make the situation worse.

Bidegain, Ivy and Webb were allowed to talk among themselves, then confirmed to the officers what Roselius had said earlier: that the hunting dogs were turned loose and had the cougar cornered in the cave prior to Roselius arriving, according to their written statements.

Game and Fish recovered the cougar’s pelt and skull from a taxidermist in Amarillo.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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