CARSON CITY -- Lame-duck Gov. Jim Gibbons fired the director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife when he arrived at the governor's office Monday to meet with the transition team for Gibbons' successor, Brian Sandoval.
Ken Mayer's removal weeks before Gibbons leaves office puts the selection of Mayer's successor largely in the hands of the Nevada Wildlife Commission, a nine-member panel appointed by the governor that has drawn the ire of sportsmen's and conservation groups over its wildlife policies.
Mayer said he was given a letter by Robin Reedy, Gibbons' chief of staff, ending his employment immediately and thanking him for his service.
"I was surprised," said Mayer, who was appointed by Gibbons in 2007. "I thought I had a good relationship with Governor Gibbons and that he appreciated the work I've done for the state of Nevada."
Reedy declined comment.
"The director works at the pleasure of the governor, and we will not comment further on personnel related matters," she said in an e-mail .
Former commissioners and natural resource officials expressed shock and sadness at Mayer's firing.
"I had a long, really successful relationship with Ken," said Allen Biaggi, retired director of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. "I don't know that I've ever worked with a guy who had the resources foremost in his mind."
Chris MacKenzie, who served six years on the wildlife commission, said Mayer "poured his heart and soul" into his job.
"I feel terrible for Ken," he said, calling the governor's action a "parting gift" to his appointees on the commission.
Sandoval soundly defeated Gibbons in the June GOP primary, making him the first incumbent governor in state history to lose a nominating election. Sandoval has been meeting with existing Cabinet members and agency chiefs and has reappointed several to his own administration that takes office Jan. 3.
Mayer was scheduled to meet with Sandoval on Monday in Carson City but was intercepted by Gibbons staff members and dismissed before that meeting could occur.
Under state law, when the position of wildlife director is vacant, the governor must make an appointment from recommendations nominated by the commission.
Commissioner Mike McBeath said he was upset by the political maneuver.
"I'm shocked, but then I guess I'm not," he said. "This governor has done a lot of things I haven't agreed with, and obviously I've been at odds with the majority of this commission for a long time.
"What really bothers me, it's a slap in the face to Gov.-elect Sandoval," McBeath said.
"Anybody who thinks this wasn't orchestrated ... is maybe just a little naive."
The commission in recent years has emphasized predator control and the killing of coyotes and mountain lions as key to restoring Nevada's deer herds.
Biologists have said loss of habitat is the main reason deer herds have been declining in the state and around the West.
The commission in early December is scheduled to finalize regulations implementing the state's first bear hunt.
In July, Gibbons appointed Hank Vogler, a Nevada sheep rancher who once accused state wildlife biologists of "political assassination" for killing a bighorn sheep that mingled with his flock, and reappointed Scott Raine of Eureka.
Wildlife agencies said killing wild sheep that mix with domestic flocks is necessary to prevent the spread of disease that could wipe out herds of the wild animals.
Vogler, in an earlier interview , called the theory a "myth based on old science" and an attempt by some to push livestock operators off public lands.
Sportsmen groups have complained of Raine's demeanor, and others have questioned some of his votes on grant awards, but those allegations were dismissed by the state Ethics Commission.