Reprinted from the Las Vegas Review Journal -
By Vin Suprynowicz
In 1988, hunters bought 51,011 deer hunting licenses in Nevada and harvested 26,784 mule deer.
In 2008, the Nevada Department of Wildlife sold 16,997 tags. Hunters bagged only 7,025 deer.
That's a huge decline. Where are the deer?
Oddly enough, whatever the problem is, it seems to affect only mule deer -- the species that generates most of the Department of Wildlife's revenue, when you consider that Uncle Sam matches deer tag revenue three-to-one.
Bighorn sheep populations are up. Antelope tags and harvests doubled over those same 20 years. Elk tags skyrocketed, from 182 to 2,723, with the elk harvest growing from 91 to 1,315.
It's hard to believe all those other species could thrive if the problem were drought or wildfires or fences or roads cutting off migration routes.
A state biologist says the apparent decline is due to cherry-picking 1988 as a starting point -- a wet year and a high point for the state's deer herd. Just six years earlier, for example, 23,053 hunters took only 11,954 deer in 1982. Current deer populations and harvests are only "slightly below" the historic average, according to Tony Wasley, the Nevada Department of Wildlife's expert on mule deer.
But a prominent hunting advocate, along with current and past members of the state Wildlife Commission, disagree. They paint a more ominous picture of a Californian re-appointed to head the agency as a political favor by Gov. Brian Sandoval after that same director, Ken Mayer, had been fired by former Gov. Jim Gibbons precisely for failing to take concrete steps to bring back a deer herd whose numbers have plunged so badly they may now be overestimated in pursuit of lucrative deer tag revenues.
They worry Mayer may have kept from his 27 years with California Fish & Game -- a state where mountain lions are experiencing a population explosion because they're no longer hunted, except when they take a jogger -- a reluctance to thin out predators, including lions and coyotes.
"For over two decades, NDOW has used 15 different excuses for Nevada's mule deer decline," argues activist Cecil Fredi of the group Hunter's Alert. "For the past few years, NDOW has used the habitat excuse. This is an excuse they can use for several more decades until their retirements kick in. It's hard to blame habitat when elk and deer occupy the same areas. Elk numbers have increased dramatically over the past two decades while deer numbers have dramatically declined," Fredi says. "The reason for this decline is that the main source of food for the mountain lion is the mule deer.
"Most biologists (but not NDOW's) believe that a lion will eat a deer a week," Fredi writes in a recent report with the attention-getting headline, "Nevada's deer will never recover." Fredi's main contention is that the state Department of Wildlife refuses to acknowledge any predator problem.
I called deer hunter and Wildlife Commissioner Scott Raine -- the immediate past chairman of the commission -- in Eureka, where he runs the town's only grocery, to ask him if Fredi's account is accurate.
"That's exactly correct," said Raine. "The mule deer population has just been crashing like a bomb in the past decade. They say, 'We don't know why it's happening, but it must be habitat.' When in doubt, blame the habitat. When you start talking about predation control, they don't even want to consider that part of the equation."
Gerald Lent, the now-retired Reno optometrist who chaired the Wildlife Commission for two years and served as vice chairman last year, but was not reappointed by Sandoval, recalls the commission approved spending $400,000 for predator control on mule deer and sage grouse. "Director Mayer fought against all these. He called the feds and shut down the sage grouse study."
Why would Mayer do that? "I don't know," says Lent. "He said the predator project to save the deer he wouldn't go along with. I think he's from California, where they outlaw predation projects."
I tried to reach Mayer for a response. He didn't return my calls, but delegated Wasley to answer my questions. Biologist Wasley says the very fact his position was created 2½ years ago demonstrates the department's commitment to maintaining the species.
"We have several predator control projects ongoing, and have spent millions of dollars in that arena," Wasley argues. "When we have removed a considerable number of predators, we have not been able to show any positive impact on game populations."
Lent has a different recollection. Under state law, "$3 per hunter is supposed to go to predator control. It's $300,000. So we put it into Area 014 west of the Gerlach Desert," Lent remembers. "The project was started in 2005 by (U.S.) Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services. From 2005 when they started, up till now, in the smallest deer management area in the state, they've taken probably 45 lions out of there, killed them. In 2005, the deer population was 850. This is out of NDOW's own book. Right now they estimate 1,400 deer there in 2011 -- that's a 65 percent increase in deer population. ... Right across the road in Area 015, that area is going down, down, down. There's no lion control in there. The lions kill a deer a week."
Mr. Wasley responds, "There was no significant difference in the area Dr. Lent is referring to in comparison to areas where there was an absence of predator control."
I asked Lent is he believes NDOW is inflating the numbers of the current deer herd, which state officials put at about 109,000. "Absolutely," he said. "They cannot prove the deer went up 2 percent from 107,000 to 109,000. The deer tag money is matched three-to-one federally. It's their cash cow."
He went on: "We had a predator conference that we had on the agenda. Ken Mayer brought in his buddies he used to work with down in California, and they basically said predation by mountain lions had no effect on the deer population, and that's not true. See, you can't hunt mountain lions in California, and I think that philosophy comes over the mountains."
Mr. Wasley defends the department's current estimate of 109,000 mule deer in Nevada, arguing that number is arrived at by tripling the deer seen from helicopters in aerial surveys. "So for somebody to suggest that it's as small as half of our published estimate, that would suggest that what we're seeing is close to 70 percent of the deer in the state, which simply is not the case. If the numbers were that small, we would begin to see hunter failure. ...
"I'm not under any constraint," Mr. Wasley says. "The director hasn't come down here and told me, 'We're not gonna kill lions, we're not gonna kill coyotes.' If there was a way that I knew we could increase mule deer, I would do it today, for selfish reasons. I love mule deer. I love to hunt mule deer. ... If there was something we could do to create more opportunity for Nevada's deer hunters, we'd do it."
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of the novel "The Black Arrow" and "Send in the Waco Killers." See www.vinsuprynowicz.com.
In July, 2005 a couple riding on ATV’s discovered 22-24 dead desert sheep carcasses at the McCullough #3 water development in southern
Good times are coming for the people who are concerned about the loss of our deer. The newly appointed Wildlife Commissioners have been told by Governor Jim Gibbons to bring back our deer. It won’t be easy nor will it be quick. Let’s review who was responsible for the loss of these deer and why it happened.
Out with the old, in with the new was in order for the Wildlife Commission appointments. The last of former Governor Kenny Guinn’s appointments to the Wildlife Commission have finally run their course. For
Steve Smith, a rancher and lion hunter in
The author made many valid points and HUNTER’ S ALERT would like to compare his views with those of HUNTER’S ALERT.
“I sure appreciate your good work. We need to do full battle against these morons.” J.G., Las Vegas
“Thanks for your efforts!” A.S., Henderson
“Keep up the good work!” H.P., Moapa, J.H., Carson City, R.F., Las Vegas, V.E., Las Vegas, G.K., Las Vegas, D. & D. C., Reno
“Wildlife Commission sucks.” D.C., Reno
“Just read your Fall 2003 publication. I can’t believe my eyes!! I’m a 50 year Nevada resident; what can I do to help our cause?” K.I., Reno
“Keep up the good work” “NDOW director makes too much money. I also have been applying for Nevada elk 26 years and mountain goat 26 years. Something wrong with bonus point system.” R.G., Hawthorne
“I am very angry with NDOW over the rancher in Mina named Bob Eddy. They (NDOW) should be cited for their illegal activities! NDOW has way too much authority and should be more regulated and better managed. Keep up the good work and please keep us informed on all their activities.” J.M., Fallon
My name is Cecil Fredi. I am representing HUNTER'S ALERT. At the January Wildlife Commission meeting in Henderson, Chairman Brown stated that he wanted more input on the lion issue. He also made the same statement at the February meeting in Reno. HUNTER'S ALERT in conjunction with Safari Club International Desert Chapter decided to give the chairman the input that he was seeking^ I will address this input later on but I would like to make a few points first.
You would think that a person who saved 53 Desert bighorn sheep from dying would be waiting for a commendation for doing a good job. Not so! He is waiting for the government to give him a citation. He has asked us not to disclose his name yet because of possible court proceedings.
DEER INCREASE: Yes, Nevada’s deer herd, rock bottom for years now, has increased—drum roll, please—a whopping 3%, from 105,000 in 2005 to 107,000 in 2006.
Kind of a letdown. 3% rate of growth? Even with back to back years of good/excellent habitat conditions? Even inbred crummy wild horses, animals we don’t want to see increase, manage 10 to 20% a year. With deer, the rate of growth can be explosive. In 1984, NDOW estimated 129,500 deer were here; by 1988, that number had almost doubled to 240,000. And that had occurred in the very heart of a terrible drought to boot.
So, what’s going on? A little over a year ago, NDOW released with much fanfare, a much awaited explanation of why Nevada’s deer herd, from 1992 to present, has failed to bounce back, despite yearly predictions for significant rates of growth. Their “Mule Deer Population Dynamics” had all sorts of interesting data and covered many angles, but, disappointingly, conveniently ignored the reason of reasons—Mountain Lions.
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Predator Control Provides Quick Results
This is exactly what NDOW is doing in our state with mountain lions.
NDOW: Agency of Deception
Nevada's Deer Herds Doomed?
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