New Mexico's wildlife mismanagement

By Mary Katherine Ray, Rio Grande Chapter Wildlife chair 03/30/14
Seismic changes have taken place in the last few months among New Mexico’s wildlife-managing administrators.
First, the director of New Mexico Game and Fish suddenly resigned last fall. Still no reason has been given for his departure. And the Game Commission has yet to begin a search for his replacement.
Then the chair of the Game Commission, Scott Bidegain, a rancher from Tucumcari and board member of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, was found to have participated in a coyote-killing contest in Nevada in December. He and a fellow participant killed enough coyotes to place sixth and win $1,300.
Another Game Commission member, Robert Espinoza, has in the past also helped to organize coyote-killing contests in the Farmington area, where he lives.
The Rio Grande Chapter has been working to end these exploitive and disruptive contests. That a Game Commission member, much less its chair, would care so little for wildlife that he would compete in a killing contest is so contrary to the mission of the Game Commission and disrespectful to wildlife that seven conservation organizations, including the Rio Grande Chapter, sent a letter to Gov. Susana Martinez in January asking for the resignation of both Chairman Bidegain and Commissioner Espinoza. The Game Commission needs members who can represent all New Mexicans and who can recognize the importance of all wildlife including carnivores.
The letter was completely ignored by the Martinez administration.
But then in February, Chairman Bidegain suddenly did resign. It wasn’t about coyotes, though. It was about a cougar “hunt” in which he participated.
Bidegain had an agreement with a wealthy Oklahoma lawyer that when a cougar was spotted on Bidegain’s ranch, he would call for the lawyer to come kill it. This came to pass, and Bidegain made this call. Then dogs were turned loose to chase and corner the cougar.
By the time the lawyer arrived in New Mexico, all he had to do was walk a short distance to the cave where the dogs had the cougar holed up, shoot it and pose for photos with the dead animal. He paid Bidegain $5,000 for the privilege of making the kill.
Cougars are routinely hunted this way, though it may make the uninitiated queasy for how unsporting it is. But there is a catch; it turns out that releasing dogs before the actual hunter is present is illegal in New Mexico. And Commissioner Bidegain in being a party to that had committed a crime. Gov. Martinez finally asked for his resignation.
That it took catching him in the act of breaking the law for his resignation to be tendered is unsavory. We can only hope that Gov. Martinez, in selecting a replacement, will choose someone who will help restore confidence in the Commission and New Mexico Game and Fish and not just another compulsive wildlife killer who defies decency.