Last week Scott Bidegain, chairman of the New Mexico Game Commission, stepped down when it was reported that he participated in an illegal cougar hunt on his ranch. Prior to that, Bidegain and New Mexico Game and Fish Commissioner Paul Espinoza Sr. were roundly criticized for participating in coyote-killing contests in other states.
Several months ago, Jim Lane, director of Game and Fish, was forced to resign with a day’s notice. The reason for the resignation has never been announced. Under Lane’s direction, the elimination of New Mexico’s wildlife, particularly black bears, increased dramatically. Lane was also a proponent for coyote-killing contests and for New Mexico’s children participating in trapping wildlife.
In 2008, Game and Fish Director Bruce Thompson resigned over allegations of an illegal deer hunt.
In the late 1990s, Game and Fish Acting Director R.J. Kirkpatrick and the department were successfully sued by a citizen hunter for harassment and intimidation. Kirkpatrick was found personally liable for compensatory and punitive damages. In spite of this, Kirkpatrick has steadily risen in the department to now occupy the top job.
But the above shenanigans are but a symptom of a much larger problem, namely, the mismanagement of New Mexico’s wildlife.
For example, for the first time in modern history, the bear population in the Sandia Mountains has been virtually eliminated with approximately 140-plus bears being either killed or trapped/relocated in the past three years. Nothing was done to stop this ecological disaster.
Last year alone, 80-plus bears were removed from the Sandias, a number exceeding Game and Fish’s entire bear population estimate. In 2010, under Lane, the statewide bear hunt limit was increased by 103 percent.
Hunter and depredation deaths total a whopping 2,200-plus bears in the past three years out of an uncounted, unknown population variously guesstimated to be 5,000 to 7,000. The slow reproduction of this species cannot keep pace with the reckless elimination that has been occurring.
The yearly cougar hunt has also been drastically increased by 51 percent from 490 to 742 from an uncounted, unknown population. Like the bears, it appears that the goal is to eliminate this species.
Present regulations place no limits on the number of animals that a trapper can kill per year on New Mexico’s state and federal land, lands that belong to all New Mexicans. In 2012 and 2013, 23,628 small beneficial carnivores like bobcats, fox, coyotes, ringtails, raccoons, etc., were reported to be killed, with 70 percent from trapping. Most surrounding states do not allow trapping on their public lands, so their trappers come to New Mexico.
The list of Game and Fish’s inferior stewardship of the state’s wildlife goes on, but I have limited space. Suffice it to say those interested in conservation of New Mexico’s wildlife are thoroughly disgusted and many of the conservation-oriented professionals at the department have either left, are completely demoralized or waiting for retirement.
This buck stops at Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk. She has complete control over what happens at Game and Fish and to this state’s wildlife. Unfortunately, she has been complacent and unwilling to set things right in this mess of a department.
The only solution is for the Legislature to take Martinez and future governors out of the picture in overseeing this state’s wildlife.
It’s time for a complete reorganization of New Mexico’s game and fish management structure, starting with the dissolution of the governor’s hand-picked Game Commission. The Legislature should configure a committee that balances the interests of not only ranchers, hunters and outfitters which is presently the case, but would also include wildlife conservation groups who represent the much larger majority of this state’s residents who value wildlife and seek to preserve it.
Unless drastic changes are made, New Mexico’s wildlife populations will continue to decline.