State steps up efforts to kill predators to help deer
Associated Press Writer
RENO – Wildlife advocates and hunters are up in arms over a state board’s decision to step up the killing of mountain lions and coyotes to help increase the deer population.
Critics say the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners is placing too much emphasis on predator control and ignoring the recommendations of staff biologists and county advisory boards. They say loss of critical habitat to development and wildfires should be given more attention.
The board voted May 15 to spend $432,000 for predator control with funds from a Nevada Department of Wildlife trust fund that had been mostly used for habitat improvement and studies until last year.
Tim Dunbar, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation based in Sacramento, Calif., said he’s unaware of any other state that is making such an aggressive push to kill predators to help deer.
“I don’t see where any decision they have made is based on science. It’s based on emotions and responding to a few interests,” Dunbar said, adding habitat loss is the main factor for declining deer herds.
Gil Yanuck, chairman of the wildlife commission’s Carson City advisory board, said most hunters oppose the action and support a combination of techniques to help deer herds.
“I think there’s more to improving things for deer than shooting every mountain lion and coyote,” said Yanuck, a deer and elk hunter. “I think we need to think more about the impacts of urbanization … and provide better habitat.”
The state’s deer population fell from 240,000 in 1988 to 107,000 this year, while its current lion population ranges from 1,500 to 3,000, according to the wildlife department. Despite efforts to eradicate coyotes, they’re as plentiful as ever, the agency says.
Nevada allows lion hunts, each year issuing a quota of lion tags that a hunter can obtain. The current quota is 306 tags a season. A tag is not required to hunt a coyote because they’re considered an “unprotected” species.
Wildlife Commissioner Scott Raine of Eureka said studies show that lions eat roughly one deer a week and are a major factor for declining deer herds.
He said habitat improvement projects take many years before they benefit wildlife, while thinning predators can help deer and bighorn sheep sooner.
“Predation control is one very small aspect of wildlife management but it’s an important aspect of it,” Raine said. “If it’s ignored we’ll have a large problem with our game populations.”
The new effort also will target ravens that pose a threat to sage grouse, a bird whose listing as an endangered or threatened species would restrict mining, ranching and other activities on public land across the West, he added.
“There are a few little groups that seem to be upset with what we’re doing,” Raine said. “Most hunters are very supportive.”
The predator plans were proposed by the sportsmen groups Hunter’s Alert and Nevada Alliance 4 Wildlife, which blame predators and the wildlife department’s management for the drop in deer numbers.
The work will be contracted to U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services employees, who will shoot and trap predators in targeted areas across the state where they have been found to adversely affect deer numbers.
Earlier this year, Wildlife Services officials declined to proceed with plans to kill lions and other predators because of opposition from Ken Mayer, state wildlife director.
But Mayer said he’s optimistic that he and project supporters now will be able to agree on appropriate sites for predator control.
“I’m committed to working with project proponents with the caveat of whatever we do is going to be scientifically based,” he said, adding Nevada ranks No. 2 in the nation in spending to manage predators for wildlife.
Don Molde, a former board member of the Defenders of Wildlife and a member of the Humane Society of the United States, said deer numbers have continued to drop, even though 71,548 coyotes and 1,698 lions were killed over the last decade in Nevada.
“Killing predators has done nothing to enhance mule deer numbers and it appears it never will,” he said. “It may be that our current population of 107,000 is all the deer our habitat will support.”