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April 24, 2014

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At Sandoval’s behest, Nevada wildlife director resigns

The director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife resigned abruptly Wednesday at the request of Gov. Brian Sandoval following months of pressure from representatives in rural Nevada over deer management and agency efforts to stave off federal protection for sage grouse.

In an email letter to staff obtained by the Associated Press, Ken Mayer said the decision to take the agency in another direction is the governor's prerogative.

His resignation is effective Feb. 12.

"We all reach times in our careers where change in inevitable," Mayer wrote. "That time came for me this week when Gov. Sandoval's office asked me to resign as the director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife."

Mary-Sarah Kinner, in a statement to the AP, said, "The governor thanks Ken Mayer for his service to Nevada and wishes him well."

She said Sandoval anticipates "naming a successor in the near future."

Former Nevada Assemblyman John Carpenter, an Elko Republican, said he and others lobbied the governor for Mayer's ouster.

"I've had problems with Ken Mayer for a long time," Carpenter told the AP in a telephone interview. "I've been talking and corresponding with the governor for a long time about this."

Mayer's departure comes two years after his reinstatement to job after he was fired by former Gov. Jim Gibbons in November 2010 as Gibbons was leaving office.

Mayer, a wildlife biologist with more than 20 years' experience in Nevada and California, then went to work briefly for the Legislative Counsel Bureau and was rehired by Sandoval after he moved into the governor's office in 2011.

Mayer's battles with Gibbons involved Mayer's disputes with the Nevada Wildlife Commission, a nine-member policy-making board of governor appointees. The commission under Gibbons was often at odds with Mayer, and emphasized predator control and the killing of coyotes and mountain lions as key to restoring Nevada's deer herds.

Carpenter said those same conflicts persist. He also accused Mayer of being "in cahoots" with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over protecting sage grouse. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under court mandate to determine by 2015 if the chicken-sized bird deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act. Western states fear a listing would devastate rural lifestyles and put the brakes on ranching and energy development.

In a letter sent to Sandoval on Wednesday, Carpenter complained the wildlife agency was spending too much money on "questionable studies" rather than for "ground predator management."

"It is the position of Ken Mayer to turn Nevada into another California," Carpenter wrote in the letter obtained by the AP.

"The only way to get into a positive mode in regard to increasing the deer herd and keeping sage grouse off the endangered list is for the governor to relieve Ken Mayer of his position and choose someone who can work with all parties on a cooperative and positive note."

Biologists have said loss of habitat, much of it due to wildfire, is the main reason deer herds have been declining in the state and around the West.

The wildlife director is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the governor. A law passed by the 2011 Legislature removed a requirement that such appointments must come from recommendations put forth by the commission.

Mayer was first hired as head of the Nevada wildlife agency in 2007.

In his exit letter to staff, Mayer wrote, "Before I came here, the reputation of this department and its workforce was widely known throughout the wildlife world as a top notch organization. Over the six years I have been director we have added to that great reputation.

"As I leave here, I have every faith and confidence that you will maintain that same level of commitment and integrity toward the management of wildlife in Nevada."

Mayer could not be reached for comment.

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