In 1973 I came to Elko to take over the operation field program throughout the State of Nevada for the Animal Damage Control Program, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Department of Interior. I was the assistant state supervisor for this program. Our job was the protection of livestock and human health and safety. Nevada Department of Wildlife at that time was against predator control and remains so to this day.
What you have to understand is these biologists are taught in the liberal colleges that there is no correlation between predator numbers and game numbers — it is all about habitat!
In the early ’70s there was still a viable range sheep operation in Nevada. (The Rubies at one time ran 40,000 head of sheep on summer permits.) I had trappers on the ground and aircraft (both fixed-wing and rotor-wing) in the air. In 1972 President Nixon had banned all toxicants in Animal Damage Control activities. About this time the long-haired fur prices went through the roof. Private trappers were out in force taking coyotes off the range.
The combination of ADC efforts and the private trappers resulted in a large decrease of coyotes preying on livestock, upland birds and big game. I also had five mountain lion hunters stationed around the state that worked on the mountain lion livestock depredations.
So what, you may ask, has all this to do with big game and upland game bird numbers? Well, we had so many sage grouse that it was dangerous to fly the helicopter in many areas; the birds would flush ahead of the rotor craft in large numbers. Mule deer were everywhere. There were very few range fires at that time. The Elko BLM District had more AUMs than any district in the system.
Ravens were few, and every ranch boy had a .22-caliber rifle and shot the “chicken hawks,” as they were called in those days. Cheat grass was the feed that livestock people turned out on in the spring. The large livestock numbers, sheep and cattle, kept the cheat grass from going to seed each year, thereby eliminating the range fires to a great extent.
So you may ask where was NDOW and the BLM when this was all going on? Never once did they admit that all of this predator control effort and livestock numbers in Elko County had anything to do with big game and upland bird numbers and range fires. They talked about the habitat, rain in July, price of gas, etc.
What really was happening was they were getting a free ride for little or no money of their own and they were looking like great wildlife managers to the sportsmen of this state .
Soon, in the late ’80s, times began to change. Domestic sheep were being driven off the land by the wild sheep clubs and federal land managers and NDOW. They wanted to plant wild sheep on every mountain range in Nevada. The domestic sheep industry began to disappear.
The federal funding dried up for large ADC activities, upland game bird numbers went down, mule deer numbers decreased, AUMs on federal lands were cut and predator numbers began to rise. The big boom years in upland game numbers and mule deer were over!
The reason I am writing this is I was there and saw what happened. These young NDOW and BLM biologists of today have no clue what happens when you take large numbers of predators out of the equation. They also do not know that range domestic sheep were a buffer between the predators and mule deer. Predators love to kill domestic sheep — they are much easier to catch and they do not have to go hungry!
So what can the citizens of Nevada do about all of this? Flood the Governor’s office with letters and phone calls, contact your congressional representatives and ask them to work on this predator problem. Get their support to de-list the raven from the Federal Migratory Protection Bird List.
Remember, 2015 is coming as the date of listing the Greater Sage Grouse. Letters and telephone calls must be made now!
Mike Laughlin of Lamoille is a retired federal wildlife biologist.