By Jonathan Kaminksy
Feb 18 (Reuters) - The chairman of the New Mexico Game Commission has resigned after he was accused of helping to illegally hunt a cougar on his family's cattle ranch earlier this month, the agency said on Tuesday.
Scott Bidegain was charged with one misdemeanor count of being an accessory to the unlawful killing of a cougar, said Department of Game and Fish spokeswoman Rachel Shockley.
The commission enforces hunting and fishing regulations.
Bidegain was accused of unlawfully releasing his dogs to pursue a cougar without the hunter being present on his ranch near Tucumcari, 170 miles (274 km) east of Albuquerque, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper
Cougar hunting is legal in New Mexico, and tracking and hunting them with dogs is common, but the hunter must be present from the time when the dogs are released to when the cougar is killed.
In a resignation statement released Monday, Bidegain acknowledged he took part in the cougar hunt, and commended the officers who cited him even as they were under his authority in his role as chairman of the seven-member commission.
"Unfortunately, I was present during a hunting incident earlier this month that will result in charges being filed shortly," he said. "I believe that it is in the best interest of the Commission and the Department that I step down at this time."
Bidegain was appointed to his post in 2011 by Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican.
"We count on our game commissioners to set wildlife policy. To blatantly engage in illegal activity like this sends exactly the wrong message and I'm glad he resigned," said Phil Carter, wildlife campaign manager for Animal Protection of New Mexico.
Bidegain was already under fire from environmentalists over his participation in a coyote-killing contest in December.
Together with a partner, Bidegain placed sixth in the World Coyote Calling Championship in Elko, Nevada, by shooting and killing eight coyotes. The pair collected $1,300 in prize money, contest results show. (Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Washington; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)