Interested in hunting, fishing and conservation? Dreaming you might oversee 300 employees across the state and a $39 million annual budget, while also navigating a commission whose politically-appointed members are supposed to represent everyone from hunters and fishermen to conservationists and recreation lovers? Well, great. Because New Mexico has just the job for you: The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is hiring a new director.
But many New Mexicans, including those working within the department itself, are still wondering what happened with the former director—more than three months after the state’s Game Commission convened an emergency closed meeting and accepted the resignation of James Lane.
At just after one o’clock, RJ Kirkpatrick, assistant director, forwarded a farewell message from Lane to department staff. Bidding employees goodbye and bestowing his pride upon them, Lane wrote, “While sometimes abrupt, career change is inevitable at times. It is the right time for me and my family to move on.” A few hours later, a press release announced that Kirkpatrick— not [Dan] Brooks, the second-in-command—would step in as interim director. Lane’s name didn’t even appear in the release.
Repeated requests for details about the quick and speedy departure have gone unanswered, save for in October, when the department’s spokesperson said Lane was leaving to “focus on his family.” A renewed request for comment was not returned by Friday morning.
In the wake of Lane’s departure, some conservation and hunting groups have asked that this time, the commission undertake a robust national search for the new director. That would stand in marked contrast to the search it undertook in 2011. As SFR reported:
The job announcement went out on Aug. 31, 2011. A handful of applicants were vetted; four of the five were from within the department. (The one out-of-state candidate considered was eliminated due to a lack of qualifications and responsiveness.) According to an internal timeline of the search process, interviews would take place during the commission’s Oct. 13 meeting and the new director would be announced in early November.
But after emerging from the closed session of interviews at about 4 pm, the commission voted in favor of Lane.
The commission’s decision on a new director may seem like the sort of thing that only hunters, who now go by the moniker "sportsmen" should care about—but that’s not the case. Under the state’s Wildlife Conservation Act of 1978, it also lists, protects and studies threatened and endangered species. Department biologists work on projects including such iconic species as the Mexican gray wolf, desert bighorn sheep, and the Gila Trout.
Some of the state’s conservation groups also expect the state’s game commissioners to show a little restraint when it comes to killing predators, even if they’re not rare. In a recent letter to Gov. Susana Martinez, nine groups asked her to remove Chairman Scott Bidegain and Commissioner Robert Espinosa. According to a statement from the nine groups, Bidegain competed in a coyote-killing contest in Nevada (he and his partner killed eight coyotes and won a $1,300 prize) and Espinosa organized coyote-killing contests in New Mexico.
According to the groups’ statement:
Coyotes help to maintain the balance of natural ecosystems by controlling populations of prey species, including rodents that sometimes carry human diseases, such as Hantavirus and plague. Research shows that indiscriminate control efforts have no effect on overall coyote numbers, but cause suffering to individual animals, disrupt family pack structure and can actually increase coyote conflicts with livestock.
Speaking in early December, Wild Earth Guardians executive director says that former director Lane’s anti-conservation record was troublesome, but the department has never represented the non-hunting public.
“I think he took the department from a 1950s mentality back to the Dark Ages,” he says. “The department plays an incredibly important role on many things I care about, but the truth of the matter is the agency has made itself irrelevant on these matters because they don’t have the scientific credibility or the institutional credibility to deal with modern wildlife issues.”
Candidates have until March 24 to apply. More details can be found online at: http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/