State Game Commission chief resigns over role in cougar killing

Scott Bidegain. Courtesy photo.

State Game Commission chairman Scott Bidegain, who state conservation officers a week ago accused of helping four other men illegally kill a cougar on his family’s ranch near Tucumcari, resigned over the weekend.

Bidegain, who represented District 4 in northeastern New Mexico, was charged Monday with a misdemeanor in Quay County Magistrate Court. The state Department of Game and Fish said the complaint alleged Bidegain was an accessory to killing the cougar.

John Crenshaw, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, applauded Bidegain’s decision to step down. “The commission has to hold itself to the highest standard of upholding hunting and fishing regulation. Anything less is unacceptable,” said Crenshaw, who retired after 23 years with the Department of Game and Fish. “An alleged violator shouldn’t be on that board. Bidegain certainly did the right thing by resigning.”

Bidegain was with at least four other men Feb. 9 on his family’s T4 Cattle Company ranch when they allegedly let loose dogs to chase and tree a cougar, according to citations issued by Game and Fish Department officers. Bidegain’s citation said he “aided in the unlawful killing of a cougar by releasing his dogs to pursue a cougar prior to the hunter being present.”

New Mexico has a year-round cougar hunting season from April 1 to March 31, but a hunter must have a valid state license and must be present when a cougar is killed. The harvest limit is set each year by the department.

Cited along with Bidegain was Larry H. Webb of Newkirk; Billy G. Ivy of Canyon, Texas; Chad W. Hassell of Childress, Texas; and Jason E. Roselius of Oklahoma City. Roselius was cited for killing a cougar without a valid license. It is unclear whether the men shot the cougar or their dogs cornered and killed the cougar.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish did not provide a copy of the charges filed against the men and the Quay Magistrate Court said the documents would not be available until Tuesday.

In his resignation letter, Bidegain stated: “I am honored to have served on the commission and as its chair. 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.”

Bidegain did not respond to a message left at his home seeking comment.

Vice Chairman Thomas “Dickie” Salopek will lead the commission until a new chairman is named. Bidegain’s departure is the second major shake-up in the department since October, when department director Jim Lane suddenly resigned with little explanation.

Crenshaw said it has long been a part of the department’s culture and history to enforce hunting and fishing regulations regardless of who is busted for an infraction. “I’m proud to see our game officers continue to have that kind of courage and integrity,” he said.

Crenshaw said it isn’t easy to issue citations to someone in power, whether that’s the Game Commission chairman or the director of the department. In 2008, the Game Commission revoked the hunting license of Bruce Thompson, then director of the Department of Game and Fish, for illegally killing a deer on a private ranch. Thompson said at the time he thought he was on public land but inadvertently killed the deer on private land.

Bidegain helps manage his family’s T4 Cattle Company in Tucumcari. He is a member of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association.

Bidegain ran afoul of environmental groups earlier this year over his participation with another State Game commissioner in coyote-killing contests. Nine conservation organizations asked Gov. Susana Martinez to remove Bidegain and Robert Espinosa from the commission on Feb. 5. The groups alleged that Bidegain had competed in a coyote-killing contest in Nevada in December and won $1,300 in cash. They wanted Espinosa removed for helping organize coyote-shooting contests in New Mexico as executive director of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife — New Mexico Chapter. Espinosa remains on the commission.

Crenshaw said the New Mexico Wildlife Federation has yet to take a stand on the coyote-killing contests. But he called Bidegain’s participation while serving as chairman of the State Game Commission “poor judgment. Certainly it was legal under Nevada’s laws, but a guy in his position should know he is under a microscope when it comes to wildlife.”

Crenshaw said he would like to see Martinez appoint someone with broad experience as a sportsman to replace Bidegain. “Bidegain would have been better suited with his rancher and cattle grower connections, and transferable antelope licenses, to represent agriculture,” he said. “He is the opposite end of the spectrum from a lot of public hunters. He didn’t really represent the blue collar hunter in the northeast.”

New Mexico is home to thousands of hunters and anglers. Their license fees and taxes on equipment are the primary revenue source for wildlife conservation in the state.

Contact Staci Matlock at 505-986-3055 or smatlock@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.

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(5) comments

Catherine Clinger

What is wrong with this man? Sickening and shameful.
I have had some very good experiences with Game and Fish folk. This person behaved like a barbaric predator and had no business having a position of authority. I agree with the other commentary that advocates for balance. Ranchers and hunters have too much representation on committees and some assert a flawed opinion as to their so-called expertise on matters of wildlife management and conservation. The boyish smile belies a childish and immature core - his demonstrates a disturbing level of enjoyment in perpetrating acts of cruelty.

Gary Cascio

Here's hoping resigning his position and the public embarrassment that involves is only the beginning. If he is found to have violated the law then he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law as an example. He more than anyone else in this state should have known better. A beautiful animal is dead for no reason other than bloodlust. There must be more balance on the game commission. it should reflect the views of the citizens of this state, not one, extremely prejudicial point of view.

Lindsey Bradford

This is why hunters and ranchers should not be allowed to hold chairs on any wildlife commission board. This is not an isolated incident. You do not allow the fox to guard the hen house.

Carla Porter

A big thanks to the state conservation officers!

However, I suggest New Mexico stop hunting wild predators, like mountain lions. They play a vital role within their ecosystem. Coexistence should be pursued.

James Fitzgerald

Why was it necessary to kill the cougar?? Turning dogs loose on the animal, treeing it and then shooting it or letting the dogs kill it by tearing it apart is not sportsmanship hunting. Do not refer to these folks as hunters because they aren't.

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