Monday, October 6, 2008

Officers seek removal of game director

The head of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department has had his hunting license revoked for illegally killing a deer on private land. Now, conservation officers who work for him want him to step down or be replaced.

Director Bruce Thompson lost his hunting privileges in New Mexico and more than two dozen other states when the New Mexico Game Commission voted Thursday to revoke his license for two years.

Thompson was accused of shooting a deer on the Diamond T Ranch in southeastern New Mexico during a hunt last November. It's illegal to hunt on private property in New Mexico without permission from the landowner.

Thompson, who had a valid deer hunting license, said he believed he was on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, based on coordinates entered in his global positioning system unit.

Thompson has taken responsibility, but members of the New Mexico Conservation Officers Association claim the director's handling of the incident has given the department a bad name.

''It's frustrating for us,'' Colin Duff, president of the association, told The Associated Press on Friday. ''For a guy to be in that position, he's been convicted and is still signing laws that pertain to everybody else's hunting privileges, we don't really see how he can keep doing that.''

A letter from the association was read at Thursday's commission meeting, outlining the group's feelings about Thompson's leadership. The letter states Thompson ''should step aside and let a qualified and trustworthy person take the reins.''

Thompson said Friday he had not seen the letter, and he defended his ability to lead the department.

''You should examine the accomplishments that the department and the Game Commission have demonstrated over many years,'' he said, pointing to expanded sportsmen's opportunities, resource management projects and the department's access to nature program.

Thompson said that throughout his case, he encouraged the appropriate judicial and administrative processes to be used and that he not receive special treatment.

''I just asked that this be handled as things would be applied to any sportsman,'' he said, adding that he was proud of the commission and department staff's professionalism and integrity in dealing with the case.

Thompson, who was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson in 2003, works at the commission's pleasure.

Despite the officers' request that the commission replace Thompson, chairman Tom Arvas said the matter was closed with the decision to revoke the director's license.

A message seeking comment was also left with Richardson's office on Friday.

Arvas said he didn't believe the license revocation would interfere with Thompson's ability to do his job.

Duff disagreed, saying that officers and the public have become frustrated with Thompson.

Thompson was convicted earlier this year of unlawful hunting and illegal possession of a deer because of the 2007 incident. He was ordered to serve 182 days of unsupervised probation and pay fines as a result of his no contest plea to the charges.

Despite the convictions, the association claims the director fought the revocation process, forcing his own employees to testify against him.

Duff said similar violations involving wildlife officials in other states have resulted in resignations or terminations long before court action.

''Why has New Mexico's leadership acted so differently? Why has this leader been afforded the ability to disrespect his agency for an entire year?'' Duff said in the letter. ''These are truly sad times for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.''

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