ELKO — The recent reduction of mule deer tag quotas has some people claiming the cuts could dramatically impact local economies. For others, the cuts are a necessity of putting wildlife over the drive for money.
The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners voted Saturday to reduce the number of mule deer buck tags 25 percent below staff recommendations in all but five hunt units. In those five units, the recommendations were cut 10 percent.
The department claims there will be 11,536 buck tags for the entire state, down 22 percent from staff biologists’ recommendation of 14,910. According to acting Director Ken Mayer, the reduction “creates a significant loss of opportunity for deer hunters.”
“Biologists and staff experts put a great deal of effort into the scientific survey work that is the basis for their tag quota recommendations,” stated game division Chief Larry Gilbertson. “Disregarding these recommendations negates all of the hard work and dedication of game division employees, with our sportsmen coming out as the biggest losers.”
However, the department also notes the state’s deer population has improved only modestly for the second year in a row.
According to Ken Wellington, a member of the Elko County wildlife advisory board, the reductions mean the loss of 2,303 tags for NDOW’s Eastern Region, which includes Elko, Eureka, Lander and White Pine counties. That includes 1,710 rifle tags, 409 archery tags and 184 muzzle loader tags.
Wellington told the Free Press that by using $600 as an average spent per hunter, the area’s economy could stand to lose $1.4 million, not including losses to NDOW. His average of $600 is based upon the amount of money he and other hunters he knows spend annually.
Wellington said Eastern Region tag money losses for NDOW would be about $318,780 from Pittman-Robertson federal matched money and $106,260 from direct tag revenue. About $600,000 in possible losses was calculated at the meeting by NDOW staff.
NDOW’s funding is based upon donations, tag application fees, license fees and matched funds from the federal government for taxable outdoors-related sales. Critics argue any impact to that funding base could be damaging to NDOW.
“That’s enough money to pay the salary and benefits of five biologists,” Wellington said.
He also stated that guides may be concerned since it means a 25 percent decrease in guided tags for next year, and ranchers may reach the 1.5 percent cap on antelope and deer tags faster.
Commission Chairman Scott Raine told the Free Press he questions the increased population numbers claimed by NDOW. He said the 12 percent increase for 2011 was not backed by any evidence to prove the quotas would not damage mule deer populations and quality of herds. He also said such information likely doesn’t even exist.
“The nine-member commission determined it was not scientifically reasonable nor healthy for the deer, considering the statistically flat deer populations shown by NDOW data over the past decade, hunter success and a host of other limiting factors,” Raine said.
Information provided to the commission was produced by Vice Chairman Gerald Lent. Lent told the Free Press several months ago he requested the population data from various areas around the state. After months of going back and forth with NDOW staff, Lent agreed to a compromise but has yet to receive all of the information. So, he went to the next most readily available source of data — the Nevada Hunt Book. Data contained in the book is produced by NDOW.
Lent took population figures since 1983 and charted each area. He then compiled that data into a master chart for the state. In nearly every unit the population numbers have steadily declined. The master chart shows a decline and recent leveling over the past decade.
“This was the first time the commission even had data in front of them to make a decision and found to their shock these deer herds have been in a significant decline in 24 of the 27 hunt areas in the state,” Lent said.
He stated that this data was never furnished to the commission in prior years. As a result of the information provided by him, Lent said the commission did not believe the proposed 11.6 percent deer tag increase by NDOW for 2011 was warranted when the increase in the deer population was only 1.8 percent last year. The decision was made to “save our deer herds,” according to Lent.
“Sportsmen surveyed would rather wait one to three years without a deer tag to have a quality hunt in the field and see quality bucks,” Lent said. “Reductions to enhance the quality of the experience will be welcomed by sportsmen.”
The wildlife commission suspended outright the state’s doe hunt for Area 10 (the Ruby Mountains and East Humboldts) earlier this year on similar grounds.
Money has been the focus of many, citing concern for economic impact and NDOW’s funding.
Both the Reno chapter of Nevada Bighorns Unlimited and Nevada’s Coalition for Wildlife have come out publicly since the meeting in opposition to the commission’s decision, claiming loss of state revenue and loss of hunter opportunity.
Jeremy Drew, president of the Coalition for Wildlife, stated in a circulated e-mail from his group that there was a special meeting Wednesday to discuss possible action in response to the quota reductions.
“They claim that the dollars lost is very important to parts of rural Nevada that are struggling,” Lent said. “This is true, but our deer populations are also struggling and have only shown less than 0.5 percent growth over the last eight years … Preserving our deer resources for the citizens of Nevada should have priority over just raising dollars for the state agency.”
Raine said Mayer’s remarks in the NDOW press release are a “slanderous and politically motivated twist” to the conservation-minded decision to keep the state’s deer from being over-harvested.
“The commission decided to slow down what appears to be an indiscriminate rape of Nevada’s deer herds by unreasonable harvest levels, possibly motivated by NDOW’s wish for short-term financial gain,” Raine said.