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NM Game and Fish in need of reform

The past few months have not been good ones for New Mexico’s Game and Fish Department. First, the sudden and mysterious departure of Director Jim Lane, who made his stance on trapping, coyote killing and other important conservation issues public when many felt such comments were inappropriate for a Game and Fish director.

Then there is Commission Chair Scott Bidegain and one of his outspoken commissioners, Paul Espinoza Sr., who continue to participate in or sponsor coyote-killing contests. The chairman himself recently even went so far as to participate in a coyote-killing championship in Nevada, winning a cash prize.

Recently, the Albuquerque Journal has been reporting some of the disturbing allegations that show just how low many on the commission will stoop to foster a very crude and far from scientific approach to managing wildlife.

What all of this speaks to rather loudly is the moral desegregation of the Game and Fish Department. This agency has a long history of working far too closely with the livestock industry and, as a result, has been aggressive in its stances on killing predators. In the last few years, this has included a massive killing of black bears in the state based on a study that had no peer review.

The selection of Lane as director was controversial from a conservation perspective. While he worked for many years in Kentucky, such a position in New Mexico would seem at the surface to require a real working knowledge of our lands and culture. Lane was selected and, during his short time, he pushed to have new Game and Fish vehicles painted with the logo “Take a Child Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Today.”

In public hearings, Lane consistently pushed his view that coyote-killing contests were not only good, but essential. Such a stance continued to raise the concern about the Game and Fish Department’s own concern for a healthy ecosystem, one that science makes clear needs predators.

Our research at Bold Visions Conservation also showed that Game and Fish was distributing pamphlets to representatives about why protections for prairie chickens could harm the oil and gas industry. Such information came from a well-known anti-environmental legal group, the Pacific Legal Foundation. This clearly crossed the integrity that we expect from a state-run agency.

No one bears more responsibility for the actions and the lack of control of this agency than Gov. Susana Martinez. While always presenting a concerned voice, her selections of commissioners, such as Paul M. Kienzle III, whose personal resume includes years of working for Mountain States Legal, another organization devoted to harming public lands as an industry front.

Such appointments, along with promoting Bidegain to the position of head of the commission, imply that she opposes common sense protection for wildlife and our most precious resource, our public lands.

This agency and its commission must be brought before the roundhouse to explain their actions and motives. More than anything, they must be forced into the 21st century and learn to respect, not kill, all creatures that share the land with us. For far too long, this commission has operated without the sunshine and moral leadership that citizens of our state expect.

Reforming the Department of Game and Fish is needed urgently and, hopefully, the reporting on this issue that we are seeing will force the change and moral clarity needed for the agency. True conservation, protection of species like wolves, bears and coyotes, along with sound science, must be part of this important reform. More than anything, we must understand the morality consequences of our actions.

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