BOLD VISIONS CONSERVATION: BE A CITIZEN OF THE WORLD

Why Reforming Game and Fish is so Important

There is perhaps no issue we view as more important than reforming Game and Fish Departments across our country. We have said many times nothing will have more impact on our lands, water and wildlife than this reform. Over the past few months we have looked nationally at what is occurring and see clear evidence that many Game and Fish Departments are in need of serious reform.

From Bear Baying in South Carolina, to coyote penning in North Carolina, to the complete slaughter of wolves in Montana, Game and Fish departments are not becoming more progressive, but relics of a bygone era.

But it does not end there, the battle over trapping continues and many states appear dug in to the idea that trapping is part of the custom and culture of their state. We know that trapping must be eliminated, and such rational makes no sense in a modern and educated society.

The more we research and investigate, the more disturbing the story becomes on a national level!

Game and Fish departments are run by commissions; they are generally chosen by the Governor as political payback and depending on the state are tied to specific interests. In the West, that translates to ranching and oil and gas interests.

The agencies themselves use these commissions to cover their lack of Peer reviewed science, and the killing of predator species. In many states they also continue to allow trapping, because sportsmen continue to say if trapping is removed, then it’s only a matter of time before hunting is outlawed.

It’s time than Game and Fish Departments move into the 21st century. But as long as departments gain most of their revenue from hunting and trapping tags, and the tax on firearms and ammunition, we are left with little or no voice.

Outdoor User Fee

That is why we are pushing the concept of an Outdoor User Fee. Such a fee, like a tag would be something an individual or family would purchase once a year, simply to recreate in the outdoors. Monies generated would go specifically to endangered species, land acquisition and land and water restoration.

While many would argue with paying to use our public or state lands, the reality is this; sportsmen have far more power because they pay to kill. In order for us to take control or put more balance into commissions, we must generate income. In addition, if we want to stop the wanton killing of predators, demand the use of real science, not what outfitters want to make money. We must be willing to accept change.

Our goal is to end trapping forever, to stop the slaughter of wolves and never allow Killing Contests of any kind. In order to achieve this, we believe the creation of an outdoor user fee, will allow us to dwarf any funds that states receive from sportsmen, thus creating the clout to generate change.

In the months ahead we will be creating a video that explains the issues at hand, the states that are perhaps most egress, and why this issue must be tackled with the same aggressive, no nonsense approach we believe in! These are our goals:

• To get a video produced that can be used to educate and create a network of volunteers working to reform Game and Fish Departments in their state.

• Ask members to attend Game and Fish Commission meetings, take note and keep us informed of what actions are being considered.

• That will allow us to promote the issue and get our activists engaged.

• We continue to ask for your input on what is occurring in your state. We hope to complete a chart of states that shows clearly who is moving into the 21st century and who is regressing.

• We want the story of Game and Fish Departments to be something your local media covers in far more detail. Let us know and we will make direct contact with local media and help get this story published.

• Once again we want to connect this to our Student Action Network for the Environment or SANE. Help us by putting us in contact with a local school so they can become part of our network and become a voice for reform.

Please help us and sign up for a video in the coming months and work to create change!

Reforming Game and Fish Departments Nationally

donate to help oust Jim Lane and Reform Game and Fish Departments Nationally!

If there is one area that could transform wildlife in the western United States it is reforming the corrupt nature of Game and Fish Departments. There are, like with so many agencies, exceptions to the rule. However, the wolf debate made policy crystal clear: Game and Fish Departments showed their true colors, which has been blood red for wolves.

The Reality

Looking closely at the New Mexico Game and Fish Department reveals what many should look for in their State. In New Mexico, one of the four finalists actually scrawled his resume on yellow legal paper. The agency hired Jim Lane as the Director for Game and Fish. Jim was one of the finalists, and came from Kentucky where he enjoyed trapping as his personal hobby.

Since its inception, the agency has been far too cozy with ranchers and the livestock industry. They do all they can for ranchers to reduce predators: coyotes, prairie dogs, bears, and Mountain Lions. They claim their policy is science-driven, but their papers are never peer-reviewed, and the predator population killed far outweighs the natural balance of a functioning environment.

Ranchers are given Game Tags for hunting on their lands, which have become a major profit center, often exceeding their profits from cattle: those tags generate tens of thousands of dollars annually. Not surprisingly, the Game and Fish Commissioners will often spend a few days as guests of ranchers, being wined, dined, and hunting to their heart’s content. In other words, their souls belong to the ranchers.

Some Game and Fish Commissioners, like new Commissioner Scott Bidegain of the T4 Cattle Company, (appointed by republican governor Susana Martinez), have even awarded Game Tags to their own ranches!

You see similar signs at Game and Fish Commissions across the country. For instance, many Commission members are fanatical Second Amendment rights advocates. One Commissioner, Scott Kienzle (of the notorious anti-environmental Mountain States Legal Foundation, once run by former Interior Secretary Jim Watt), and former Interior Secretary Gail Norton, are both Big Oil and Gas industry advocates, at huge environmental cost. Kienzle also represented The Paragon Foundation, which believes that public lands should be privatized, and strongly advocates against wolves. Some basic research might produce evidence of a similar breed on Commissions in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Making the Necessary Change

At the last legislative session in New Mexico, Director Jim Lane spoke out--forcibly and favorably--to the idea of Coyote Killing Contests, protecting the right to trap, and as always used the need to protect livestock as his main concern.

What makes this system so corrupt and anti-wildlife, is the nature by which Game and Fish Departments operate: they are funded directly by sportsmen. Every hunting and fishing license sold, is money for the department to operate, creating a perverse incentive to allow more hunting, to yield to the powerful Outfitting industry, and to ranchers, all of whom profit from the carnage of wildlife. Once a hunting season on wolves is in place, the tags will generate new money for the agency, and as guides leading hunts. This is very difficult policy to rescind.

How We Reform Game and Fish Departments

First, we must be willing to pay to use the outdoors. That comes as a shock to many, but you must realize the shift in power that would instantly

Most of the world would give you a pass on that invite, Jim.

 impose. Today, hunting and fishing fully fund Game and Fish Departments, so the land is managed for elk and deer, not predators. If we each paid $20 per year as an outdoor user fee, (with exceptions for youth, elderly and low-income), those fees would dwarf the funding given by ranchers and sportsmen overnight, forever changing who controls that Department, and who populate its Commission.

Unreformed Game and Fish Commissions will continue killing predators, as well as their transformation of wild lands into pastoral Elk farms for hunters. We must be willing to contribute hard cash to change a system that has remained changeless for more than 100 years, or the first casualty will be that wolves may cease to exist in the wild.

Reforming the New Mexico Game and Fish Department: It’s Long Overdue

Stephen Capra

It is important to acknowledge the very important historical perspective that was written by John Crenshaw (former public affairs chief, New Mexico Wildlife editor, and game warden, who retired in 1997). Much of this history was published in earlier editions of New Mexico Wildlife. Crenshaw’s historical work, which I used in large quantities with modification, speaks for itself, but in no way was he part of this story, nor should he be viewed as endorsing it.

How we got here…..

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), and especially its game commissioners, have a long and at times groundbreaking experience in managing lands across our state. Perhaps it’s important to make clear from the start my personal distaste for management of land and especially wildlife. My distaste could be viewed as classic ignorance; if so, I am guilty as charged. I simply believe that wildlife species can when allowed to self-manage and when the natural predator-prey system is solidly in place flourish on their own. In return, lands will be in far better shape. Looking at the long history of the NMDGF is important, because it helps to give one a sense of how we have come to this place and the situation we are in today; wolves are being forced to the brink of extinction and elk populations are thriving. Perhaps equally important is understanding the differences between those working in the field people who have devoted their lives to improving our state’s environment — and the political appointees that have made the decisions that guide this agency. This is important to understand in the context of what it means for wolves and for all predators, and how it affects our chances at a truly balanced ecosystem in our state. While this snippet of history shows the early battles, it only gives a foundation. What you will see in the more modern Game Commission is a story of power and secrecy, and a mission make this state a large game farm, not a functioning ecosystem.

Early Days

While some may feel that history shows that wildlife needs management, some could argue that it’s not management wildlife needs — it’s people who need a better understanding of biology. But in earlier times the call for management was there, and gave birth to NMDGF. One needs to look back to the 1860s and the sense of Manifest Destiny that caused people to head West.

In those times people were beholders to a slaughter of wildlife on a universal scale. By 1860 the enormous southern plains bison herd was being plundered, with an estimated two million bison killed that year. Germany had developed a process to tan bison hides into fine leather. Homesteaders collected bones from carcasses left by hunters. Bison bones were used in refining sugar, and in making fertilizer and fine bone china. These bones brought from $2.50 to $15 a ton. Based on an average price of $8 per ton they brought $2.5 million into Kansas alone between 1868 and 1881. Assuming that about 100 skeletons were required to make one ton of bones, this represented the remains of more than 31 million bison.

By 1880, New Mexico, then a territory, passed its first protection law for wildlife, but the bison were gone. (Ironically, today a herd of some 25 still roam wild at the base of the bootheel, migrating between Mexico and the New Mexico border.) Many species were on the brink. The law set no big game limits and left many species unprotected. One of the natural exemptions of the time was that people traveling across the state could kill to feed their family. By 1895, there was a three-month fall hunting season in place for deer, elk and antelope, as well as a six month season for quail and turkey. By 1897 laws were getting tougher. But it would be 1903 before the Territorial legislature would create what would become the game department. They placed a man by the name of Page Otero in charge, but the legislature importantly reserved authority to designate what species would be protected and which predators to target with bounties — a decision that was not based on science. By 1909, big game license fees cost $1.

With the birth of statehood in 1912, the legislature created the Department of Game and Fish and decided that the governor would pick the “warden” to run the agency. Our first state game warden was Trinidad C de Baca. In those days, the funds for running the agency came from licenses and allowed the agency to be self-sustaining. That is until the legislature would raid the till, as it did in 1914, leading the agency and sportsmen to revolt.

Aldo Leopold joins the fray…

In 1915, severe illness forced a young U.S. Forest Service employee out of the field and into the office. His name was Aldo Leopold and he found himself in the Albuquerque headquarters as head of recreation, game, fish, information and education. The timing was fortuitous; Leopold wanted to see sportsmen empowered and he understood well the challenges that lay before them. Many legislators and governors across the West carefully guarded their powers and remained stubbornly resistant to change. Political payoffs and partisanship were the norm. Just prior to being moved into his new position, Leopold was witness to the raiding of the Game Protection Fund by the state treasurer, which while legal, was a painful blow to sportsmen who had carefully watched the fund grow and hoped its first order of business would be the construction of a trout hatchery. In his new role, Leopold was able to travel the state to share his quixotic vision for wildlife in the state. He would establish the Albuquerque Game Protective Association (AGPA) and was its first secretary. As he traveled the state, Leopold worked to create more groups in Santa Fe, Taos, Socorro, Hot Springs, Deming and Las Cruces; the list was growing and Leopold was showing a gift for organizing.

By 1916, after refusing a transfer to Washington, Leopold was about to launch a sportsmen’s statewide organization. It would be the creation of the New Mexico Protective Game Association (NMPGA), which was the forerunner to today’s New Mexico Wildlife Federation. Ironically, many of the concerns of that time could easily be echoed today because the needs remain. The organization supported better law enforcement, game refuges and most importantly, a well-qualified, politically ambiguous game warden. The most striking difference was their call for predator control. The main fight for Leopold was to get real game control in the hands of the Game Commission and out of the hands of the governor and chief game warden.

 In an editorial in the sportsman publication The Pine Cone, Leopold stated, “The stockmen are never saddled with a sanitary board unsatisfactory to them. Likewise, the organized sportsmen should not be settled with a Game Warden whom they do not approve.” Leopold’s editorial came on the heels of some unexpected developments. The Democratic Gov. Ezequiel C de Baca died in 1917, soon after taking office or naming a new game warden. The result was that Republican Lt. Gov. Washington E. Lindsey, who made no promises to sportsmen, picked Theodore Rouault Jr. of Las Cruces. With a new election came Gov. Octavio Larrazolo, and despite Leopold’s initial feelings about Rouault Jr., he was quick to support him in the position. Larrazolo seemed puzzled by the strong level of outcry from sportsmen. Organized as they were, more than 40 men arrived to meet the governor, and with Leopold as their leader, they spent an hour making the case for New Mexico sportsmen; all the while the governor acted bored. Then in a magisterial voice the governor said, “Gentleman, when I was elected governor, I asked for no additional prerogatives. By the same token, I shall surrender none! Good day.” Leopold’s response was to let the governor know that he would never enjoy a second term! Larrazolo used his power as governor to appoint Thomas Gable, who was politically connected and very close with big ranching interests, not sportsmen. Leopold asked legislators to sign a pledge not to vote for Larrazolo’s re-nomination and urged sportsmen to make the same pledge, but to no avail.

 The first commission was created in 1921, and was known as the Game Protective Association. It wanted a citizen’s body — a state game commission — to set hunting and fishing regulations, hire the state game warden, and set priorities. The legislature created a three-person commission, but still maintained the right to set seasons and bag limits, and the governor (now Merritt Mechem) still appointed the agency’s chief. The language creating the commission stated, “they were authorized to make rules and regulations and establish such services that they deemed necessary.” However, a late amendment prohibited the commission from changing any season or bag limit set by the legislature, except in case of fire or emergencies. The good news was that money in the Game Protection fund could no longer be looted by the legislature. While sportsmen and governors continued to fight, Gov. James Hinkles’ appointment of a woman — Grace Melaven — as head warden would allow this divide to reach its zenith in 1923. Once again this reflected politics and reward, a theme that remains today, as Melaven was the wife of a Santa Rosa banker. She had, at the time, no experience in wildlife conservation. The fights would go on, and New Mexico like all Western states would jump at the chance to dam its rivers, in the process destroying wild fish stocks, cross-breeding species, and adapting to a new concept — fishing at the reservoir. The damage remains today, and like many artificial creations, people, not wildlife, seemingly adapt and forget about a past that included wild rivers, beaver, and riparian areas designed to flourish, with flooding that replenished.

Modern times….

Today the modern NMDGF has evolved on some levels from its earlier days, yet the politics that were part of its youth still seem to seep into its pores. In preparing this article I asked a Martinez appointed member, Paul M. Kienzle III to give a perspective on what the commission goals are and how he feels they are working on issues of importance today. After several minutes of texting and a promise to meet me for lunch to discuss the issue further, I did not hear from him again. So I chose to speak with some former game commissioners (who wished to remain anonymous) and with many in the sportsmen community to gain a perspective on the vexing issue of the NMDGF and in particular, their commission. The first thing I was told, and told repeatedly, is that what the public does not understand about the commission is the power and control the livestock industry still commands in their decision-making process. Equally important is the power of oil and gas in decision making. One example is the payment of funds that come through big game tags to ranchers.

Ranchers have worked out a process with the commission where they are given a certain amount of tags if they have elk or antelope on their ranches — not just their private lands, but on public lands they hold leases on as well. So on top of getting lands at subsidized prices for grazing, they also enjoy, courtesy of the game commission, the right to sell a certain number of tags for personal profit. These usually go to outfitters or out-of-state hunters, who are willing to pay higher prices for trophy hunts than in-state residents. This process was born from the idea that ranchers should be compensated for wildlife feeding on their grass.

If you ask the more than 70,000 resident hunters in the state, they will also tell you that policies and decisions made by the commission over the past 30 years have dramatically eroded the percentage of big game hunting licenses available to New Mexico residents. New Mexico, by law, gives 70 percent of all antelope tags and more than 40 percent of all elk tags to land owners for resale. For deer the number is unlimited. This process, according to the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, is known as “transferable authorizations.” In addition, just over 8 percent goes directly to outfitters for resale to the public, at a profit. Over time these “authorizations” are raising questions about the cozy relations between certain commissioners and those receiving such financial rewards. A rancher may get five to seven game tags for their allotments, which he or she can sell for $3,000-$10,000 or even more for an out-of-state hunter.

In addition, ranchers are also given special compensation if they feel wildlife has consumed too much of their grass in a given year, so the commission seems particularly sensitive to the needs of ranchers across the state — something that was reflected in the early days of our state and continues today. These continued subsidies when added to federal subsidies, creates the sustainability of some grazing practices that may not benefit the land or wildlife in the long term The other curious thing about NMDGF is the quotas they set up. The commissioners always speak about the science behind these studies. However, none of these studies are actually peer reviewed. There appears to be little or no data on trapping, yet it remains sacrosanct. Former Gov. Bill Richardson banned the practice in wolf country. Once he left office, the commission quickly overturned his decision. Recent years have shown a stunning increase in black bear quotas that defy common sense, yet the commissioners defend the slaughter as necessary for the overall environment. Sandia Bear Watch has done exhaustive research to show these quotas are simply not sustainable, to no avail. The bear study made by NMDGF, which is more than four years old, produced one number when it was released, yet the commission more than doubled it this past year, while also increasing the kill of cougars, basing it, they said, “on science”. It is clear this was not based on science, but rather on politics. Most people in the biological community found the bear study used by the commission flawed, and the killings part and parcel of the commission’s need to keep the livestock industry happy by continuing to dramatically reduce all predators.

 Similar issues surrounded the doubling of an elk quota in the Gila Wilderness several years back; ranchers wanted more grass for cows, the elk were killed, and many sportsmen claim that elk numbers have yet to recover in Gila country. Once again, it appears sound science was not an integral part of the decision making process. Some on the commission vow that they take their orders directly from the dedicated staff of NMDGF, yet the so called “bubbling up” of ideas conflicts with political reality. Commission meetings are open to the public but appear more for show, as the decision of the commissioners seems like a foregone conclusion, decided beforehand, which would be in direct conflict of their roles and responsibility of representing the public. That’s what makes wolf recovery in part so complex; the commissioners had a meeting in Las Cruces several months after Gov. Susana Martinez was elected. They announced there would be a “wolf update” and they welcomed comments from the community.

 For an hour people spoke both for and against the wolf program. When they finished, the commission, with no warning, decided to vote on the spot to withdraw the state from the wolf recovery program. Remember, the meeting was termed an update with comments welcome. In minutes, New Mexico was out of wolf recovery again, but the public was given virtually no voice in the decision. Some would call that fraud or arrogance, but it seems like business as usual with this commission. NMDGF is funded approximately 95 percent by hunting and fishing license revenue, but there is also voluntary giving. Some people argue that a more appropriate way to sustain the department would be to fund it like other New Mexico agencies – through the state’s general fund. If it were funded in this way, the argument goes; the department might be less inclined to enjoy a “game farm” mentality. Another solution would be to create a voluntary fee paid by the conservation community and people who enjoy our lands. By contributing to the agency, citizens would thus gain more power and say about predators, wildlife and sound management of our lands.

Who is the Commission?

So who is this commission and what are their connections to wildlife and the land? Some refer to this commission as the “pay to play” commission, a reference to the donations made by commission members to political campaigns of both parties and the reward of being selected to the commission or remaining on despite change in the party of power. According to an important report by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, campaign contributions before the 1990s remain vague. But since Gary Johnson’s administration we can clearly see a pattern of pay to play.

Johnson received more than $11,000 from Jal rancher Bill Brininstool. When Bill Richardson took the helm he promised to “restore the game commission to its original mission — New Mexico’s bountiful natural resources.” Despite his amazing conservation record, the money and the appointments seemed to go hand and hand. All of the following information comes directly from the New Mexico Wildlife Federation’s report:

• Leo V. Simms II, who was involved in ranching and oil and gas in southeastern New Mexico, gave with family members more than $79,000 from 2002-2006. He was appointed chair of the commission in 2005.

• Guy Riordan, who would later be removed from the commission because of allegations in a federal corruption case, gave more than $44,560 to the Richardson campaign.

•Jim McClintic, now the game chairman, gave $12,700 through his contracting company from 2006 to 2007.

• Tom Arvas, who has been on the commission longer than any current members,gave the governor $8,200 from 2002-2007. His political action committee, New Mexico Optometric Association (for which Arvas was the former president), gave the governor $25,000 in 2006.

The other important point about Arvas seems to be his personal lack of conviction. Depending on who is governor, his vote will change overnight, supporting wolves one day, fighting against them the next. His vote, based on many years of review, is clearly affected by politics, not science. The purpose of the commission is in theory to create a shield between biologists and the government. There are seven seats on the commission; five are divided on a regional basis for hunting and fishing. One is considered an agriculture seat and the other a so-called conservation seat. Generally, when it comes to predators or endangered species the funding comes directly from the federal government rather than the commission or the state agency. That alone is a situation in need of change.

 During the Richardson years we saw great advances in conservation, especially with the governor’s work on Otero Mesa, but with the commission there was little improvement. Richardson even went on a hunt on the controversial Adobe-Slash ranch (a combination of private land and public land leases), known for excessive illegal killing and aggressive government removal of Mexican wolves on and near the ranch. When asked by reporters to show that he paid for the tag, the governor could never produce records and was never tough on the ranch despite the public outrage over the wolf killings and removals. The current “conservation seat” is being utilized by Albuquerque resident Jim McClintic, whose environmental credentials include being an Albuquerque contractor. McClintic is also the current chairman of the commission. He was originally appointed by Bill Richardson and confirmed by the Senate. His term ended on the last day of the Richardson administration, but to date he has not been reconfirmed by the New Mexico Senate or even nominated by the Martinez administration even though he is running Game Commission meetings as its chair. He claims to support New Mexico Trout, but is known for his generosity to both Republican and Democratic campaigns. He gave $2,000 to Susana Martinez, but also gave County Assessor Karen Montoya, a Democrat, $1,700.Perhaps the most interesting addition to the Game Commission is the friendly and unassuming Paul Kienzle III.

Kienzle and I, for transparency, are both on the board for the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo. Kienzle is friendly, easygoing and engaging. I spoke with Kienzle about this article and told him I would like to get something from an active commissioner to defend their position. He told me he would” have to run the trap lines “and see if he could talk, but he did not respond to my follow-up lunch invitation.

Kienzle is clearly an active contributor and player in New Mexico Republican politics. He has given generously to Heather Wilson’s Senate campaign, to Janice Arnold-Jones, and to other Republicans. However, what sets Kienzle apart is the fact that he has represented — what many in the sportsmen and conservation fields view as — radical groups and people. In 2004, Kienzle represented Kit Laney, who famously defied the U.S. Forest Service by overrunning his Gila allotment and refusing to acknowledge that grazing was a privilege, not a right. Laney lost everything in his court fights including his cattle and allotment, but remains a folk hero to the radical right and many in the livestock industry. Kienzle also has represented the Paragon Foundation, an extreme private lands rights and second amendment group, which tries to pass itself off as a Western heritage organization. He also has experience working with Mountain States Legal Foundation, the Denver-based group once home to former interior secretaries Jim Watt and Gail Norton. (Norton was a follower of Ayn Rand and the wise-use movement, and was senior attorney for Mountain States Legal Foundation, a group constantly fighting wilderness and conservation measures.) It also appears that Kienzle is clearly enjoying favored status within the Republican Partyas he was an attorney in their fight to remove limits on campaign financing in early 2011. One of the plaintiffs in his suit was Harvey Yates of HEYCO Petroleum (the company famous for trying to drill Otero Mesa) who wanted to give more to state Republican activities. Kienzle’s efforts were designed to go even further than the Supreme Court case of Citizens United and remove laws that curtailed individual giving or soft money, allowing the party the ability to raise more funds from friends in oil and gas and other lucrative sources.

 He also was part of the Martinez transition team and helped to select her general counsel. Over the years, the Paragon Foundation, comprised of many Otero Mesa ranchers, has also fought to return public lands into private hands opposed wilderness, fought wolf reintroduction and has had a strong connection to professors in New Mexico State University’s Rangeland Improvement Task Force. Such is the training ground of a member of this Game Commission. Scott Bidegain is the son of one of America’s largest land owners. Their immense family-run ranch, the T4 Cattle Company, is located in Tucumcari, and Bidegain is on the board of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. According to several sources, as a commissioner he regulates tags and sportsmen and his ranch financially profits from tags given by NMDGF to the T4. This was confirmed by a spokesman for NMDGF. Then there is Robert Espinoza Sr. Espinoza has been identified by many interviewed as a pawn for oil and gas interests. He also was the former president of United Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife New Mexico. He used that position to fight the New Mexico Wildlife Federation’s efforts supporting predators like the Mexican wolf. Espinoza’s group is clearly opposed to predators of all types, the wolf being a key species in their verbal assault. He also remains in line with the oil and gas industry by not supporting protections for the dune lizard. His group strongly believes that fewer predators mean more elk: to highlight that point they engage in a practice known as “coyote calling.” This barbaric practice frowned on by many sportsmen is the act of calling or imitating the sounds of a coyote or wounded animal, and when a curious coyote comes to see what is happening, they shoot it. They even offer prizes for the largest killed.

So it is clear what position someone like Espinoza will take when it comes to getting more wolves on the ground. The other commissioners are former Director Bill Montoya and new commissioner Dick Salopek, who seem to have the respect of both sportsmen and conservationists as they try to work with science and take a more reasonable approach to working with the very sportsmen they are chosen to represent. Several years ago, following the removal of former Director of Game and Fish Bruce Thompson for illegally hunting on private lands, the commission made a search for a new director. The search, according to several sources was “a joke,” including one candidate that hand wrote his resume on yellow legal paper. He was one of five finalists! The director was chosen after receiving a letter of endorsement from the Cattle Growers Association, and perhaps for the fact that he has a personal passion for trapping.

His name is Jim Lane and he last worked in Kentucky, a far cry from the arid West. Clearly a story like this fails to point out the good the commission is doing, but from the many people I have spoken with, that good remains questionable. The commission is not an independent group, like Leopold envisioned. They are in theory supposed to follow the same rules as elected officials, including Ex Parte Communication, a Latin term for the idea that lobbying and other issues are not discussed in compromised setting. Lunches and dinners are consistently paid for by ranchers, oil and gas people, sportsmen and others with a vested interest in their votes. I was told by several former commissioners that they never were aware of such rules. Another issue raised by former commissioners was about policy decisions; the chairman often making decisions without the full Game Commission being given the information or without public input, thus usurping the role of the commission and the important role of public input on policy issues.I have been repeatedly told by former commissioners that when a commission meeting is held commissioners often go to the area a few days in advance. They stay at ranches that have a vested interest in tags or other potential conflicts of interest. They may be wined and dined and enjoy hunting of game if it is in season. Questions remain about how tags are acquired, though a review of audit seems to indicate they do this legally. Finally, the new commission must be confirmed by the New Mexico Senate, but to-date none have. In fact, Chairman Jim McClintic has run meetings for a year and a half without Senate approval.

What about wolf recovery?

The purpose of this story is to give New Mexicans a snapshot of an agency that could play an important role in wolf recovery, or could if they so desired or through public pressure. During the years of Governor Caruthers the commission decided that no wolves could be directly released into New Mexico. Now, so many years later, that decision still haunts wolf recovery, as New Mexico only receives wolves that have previously lived in the wild in Arizona. This severely limits recovery options in the larger New Mexico portion of the wolf recovery area. The “pay to play” nature of being part of this commission and the lack of a true ethical code does not bode well for wildlife in general. The control of ranching and oil and gas interests does even more to diminish sound science and the effort to get predators into the wild.

 During the Martinez administration, the commission has spoken out against wolf recovery and pulled out of the program. Truthfully, that is probably a good thing — now the governor has even asked for whole packs to be removed from the wild. Our commissioners have a long history of showing little in the way of innovation or a willingness to commit to a long-term strategy of protecting wolves, bears, mountain lions or anything that gets in the way of an elk farm mentality. It is well past time for this commission to be reformed, or to take personal responsibility.

 Reforms must come and should begin with the upcoming legislative session. Let’s start by ending political appointments, and by using sound science and demanding strict enforced ethical standards for commissioners. It should be understood that when you a represent something as important as NMDGF your responsibility lies with wildlife, with creating balance, and ensuring that New Mexico’s lands remain beautiful and healthy for generations to come. Commission meetings shouldn’t be about business deals, enjoying special perks, or voting without the potential of a democratic outcome. The conservation community has largely boycotted these meetings as our voice has been essentially ignored. It’s time to show up and be counted. The governor must be held accountable in the short term for appointments until the rules used for making appointments can be changed. The commission must be forced to change; it is unlikely to happen voluntarily. Until then, they will happily continue their business and corruption will continue to permeate this commission. That will not help wolves and will not protect our precious land, water, and wild heritage.

Kienzle and I, for transparency, are both on the board for the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo. Kienzle is friendly, easygoing and engaging. I spoke with Kienzle about this article and told him I would like to get something from an active commissioner to defend their position. He told me he would” have to run the trap lines “and see if he could talk, but he did not respond to my follow-up lunch invitation.

Kienzle is clearly an active contributor and player in New Mexico Republican politics. He has given generously to Heather Wilson’s Senate campaign, to Janice Arnold-Jones, and to other Republicans. However, what sets Kienzle apart is the fact that he has represented — what many in the sportsmen and conservation fields view as — radical groups and people. In 2004, Kienzle represented Kit Laney, who famously defied the U.S. Forest Service by overrunning his Gila allotment and refusing to acknowledge that grazing was a privilege, not a right. Laney lost everything in his court fights including his cattle and allotment, but remains a folk hero to the radical right and many in the livestock industry. Kienzle also has represented the Paragon Foundation, an extreme private lands rights and second amendment group, which tries to pass itself off as a Western heritage organization. He also has experience working with Mountain States Legal Foundation, the Denver-based group once home to former interior secretaries Jim Watt and Gail Norton. (Norton was a follower of Ayn Rand and the wise-use movement, and was senior attorney for Mountain States Legal Foundation, a group constantly fighting wilderness and conservation measures.) It also appears that Kienzle is clearly enjoying favored status within the Republican Partyas he was an attorney in their fight to remove limits on campaign financing in early 2011. One of the plaintiffs in his suit was Harvey Yates of HEYCO Petroleum (the company famous for trying to drill Otero Mesa) who wanted to give more to state Republican activities. Kienzle’s efforts were designed to go even further than the Supreme Court case of Citizens United and remove laws that curtailed individual giving or soft money, allowing the party the ability to raise more funds from friends in oil and gas and other lucrative sources.

 He also was part of the Martinez transition team and helped to select her general counsel. Over the years, the Paragon Foundation, comprised of many Otero Mesa ranchers, has also fought to return public lands into private hands opposed wilderness, fought wolf reintroduction and has had a strong connection to professors in New Mexico State University’s Rangeland Improvement Task Force. Such is the training ground of a member of this Game Commission. Scott Bidegain is the son of one of America’s largest land owners. Their immense family-run ranch, the T4 Cattle Company, is located in Tucumcari, and Bidegain is on the board of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. According to several sources, as a commissioner he regulates tags and sportsmen and his ranch financially profits from tags given by NMDGF to the T4. This was confirmed by a spokesman for NMDGF. Then there is Robert Espinoza Sr. Espinoza has been identified by many interviewed as a pawn for oil and gas interests. He also was the former president of United Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife New Mexico. He used that position to fight the New Mexico Wildlife Federation’s efforts supporting predators like the Mexican wolf. Espinoza’s group is clearly opposed to predators of all types, the wolf being a key species in their verbal assault. He also remains in line with the oil and gas industry by not supporting protections for the dune lizard. His group strongly believes that fewer predators mean more elk: to highlight that point they engage in a practice known as “coyote calling.” This barbaric practice frowned on by many sportsmen is the act of calling or imitating the sounds of a coyote or wounded animal, and when a curious coyote comes to see what is happening, they shoot it. They even offer prizes for the largest killed.