Commissioner addresses criticism with minutes of personal privilege

Published 7:19 am Tuesday, March 26, 2024

MCCOMB — Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Commissioner Leonard Bentz used a moment of personal privilege to address past criticism Thursday morning. His comments were made at the end of a regularly scheduled commission meeting held at Percy Quin State Park and read from a stack of papers. 

Bentz plopped his Delta Waterfowl turtle box speaker on the table. He told the audience he wanted a chance to set the record straight by getting down on “Ricky’s level,” referring to SuperTalk Outdoors radio show host Ricky Mathews who has been critical of Bentz’s actions as commissioner. 

The first point he addressed was the issues of high fencing. 

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“I’ve always supported high fencing and deer breeding. I don’t hunt high fences except on a few occasions but some people do it. In my 47 years, I’ve sat in a high fence four or five times and never pulled a trigger,” Bentz said. “I’ve advocated for commercialization and I still do.” 

He said in February of 2023 he got a phone call from Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks committee chairman Bill Kinkade and house speaker Phillip Gunn asking him to hold off from taking any action on the issue of the trade of white-tailed deer. Bentz said he gave them his word and has not. 

Mathews was critical of a vote Bentz made against the allocation of duck stamp money for staff recommended projects such as habitat work in Canada where Mississippi ducks come from. Bentz said the commission has always appropriated monies to habitat, surveys and training. 

“I voted against sending money to Canada but I currently donate money to Delta Waterfowl annually. I used to donate to DU when we had an active chapter,” Bentz said. “I asked for data showing if the birds have increased. Data provided did not show an increase in ducks for Mississippi. We have the authority to appropriate these funds but really the legislature should appropriate them.” 

He moved on to an incident where he publicly berated USFS supervisor Shannon Kelardy at a commission meeting for implementing new safety rules. Bentz apologized for the way he spoke at a commission meeting in May 2023. 

Bentz claimed he visits with Kelardy about the Forest Service working with the MDWFP. United States Forest Service confirmed that Kelardy and Bentz have met in person and spoken over the phone a few times since May. 

Bentz said he voted against CWD zones for one reason, he claims biologists nor research shows feeding bans can stop CWD. 

“I do think it is irresponsible when not one case of CWD spreading to humans has been reported. I have heard our biologist, radio commentators, celebrity hunters, state institutions and PHDs put the thought into the average joe or janes head,” Bentz said. “It may change tomorrow but as of today it is purely irresponsible. I am prepared to make a motion for a statewide feeding ban to conduct our own study to see if the cases slow. If it truly reduces the spread of CWD I’ll support a statewide ban hands down.” 

A former legislator, Bentz said he has been a proponent of supplemental feeding since 2004. He said the MDWFP wildlife team opposed the notion of legalizing feeding and he respects their opinion because it has remained consistent. 

Bentz went on to claim that Mathews is the poster child of corn culture and baiting deer. 

“I’ve supported supplemental feeding since day 1. I don’t back up from where I believe,” Bentz said. 

He proceeded to play clips from Mathews radio show where Mathews states he has been in the no baiting camp and how people should be concerned about CWD as a human health issue. 

Bentz then showed the audience photographs pulled from Mathews personal facebook page showing instances of Mathews with corn and feeders. Bentz claimed the pictures call the credibility of Mathews into question. He added he was glad the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks foundation cut ties with the radio show. 

“I will continue to keep asking the tough questions as a commissioner should do,” Bentz said. “I’m glad they pulled the funding because now I know funds won’t go towards spewing harmful misinformation.” 

Bentz said he consistently stuck to his votes. He said people are trying to prevent him from being confirmed in the senate to another term as commissioner. He added he is not on the commission for social media fame. 

“At the end of the day I’m in it for the great employees at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and for the sportsmen and women in this state,” Bentz said. “For nearly a year I’ve kept silent but it is to a calf rope point to where Ricky needs to be called out for being a hypocrite.”

Bentz’s statement and the business session of the MDWFP commission meeting last Thursday can be watched here.