For some people, the term “predator control” means killing mountain lions and coyotes in order to protect big game animals. For others it means hiring biologists to do studies concluding that every time you kill one predator, two will appear in its place.
No matter what we say or write about the issue, we are sure to anger a large number of people who are very passionate about wildlife. The debate has divided Nevadans, and has become the subject of a back-and-forth battle in the Legislature.
It all started at the turn of the millennium when hunters came up with the idea of adding a $3 predator control fee to Nevada Department of Wildlife big game tag applications. Their intent was to give the balance of nature a helping hand by killing predators, thus improving the chances of survival for deer and other big-game animals.
Over the years, NDOW started spending some of the money on studies focused on non-lethal control methods. Groups like WildEarth Guardians sued to block lethal operations.
In the GOP-dominated 2015 legislative session, rural lawmakers were able to pass a bill mandating that the bulk of funds be used to kill predators. When the balance of power shifted this year to Democrat control, one of the first contentious bills they pursued was a reversal of that legislation.
Introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle of Sparks, apparently at the request of NDOW, the language calling for “control of predatory wildlife” would be changed to the “enhancement of big game animals.” The new version states that federal matching funds are available under this approach, but local hunters say those funds have always been available and used.
Assemblyman John Ellison cried foul last week when the bill was fast-tracked for quick passage, without setting up a videoconference in Elko – the heart of Nevada’s big game country.
The bill was set for a workshop two days later, which was videoconferenced to Great Basin College in Elko and to Las Vegas. Hunters who opposed the bill say they didn’t show up, either because they weren’t informed about it, they were told earlier that they couldn’t participate; or they were already watching the workshop via the internet. They wouldn’t have been allowed to comment at a workshop anyway, which follows different procedures than the hearing they were excluded from earlier.
Make no mistake, a large number of local hunters are really disturbed by this turn of events. They care deeply about northeastern Nevada’s big game populations and they believe that lethal methods of predator control are necessary to protect them.
Ellison was pleased with the participation from Elko County, including the number of emails, but said “There was only one person that showed up at the college because they couldn’t get the word out fast enough.”
Interest was also high in Las Vegas.
Mike Reese, president of the Southern Nevada Coalition for Wildlife, said his group’s website got 10,000 hits in response to the predator legislation update.
“AB 101 is a bait and switch bill, meaning the hunters approved paying the $3 fee and now that fee is going to something else, which is typical with government,” he told the Free Press.
According to Reese, the bill’s sponsor went on record four times saying NDOW could still use lethal control but then struck that from the statute.
Northeastern Nevada hunters are so perturbed by this turn of events that they are starting their own wildlife coalition.
The dispute has hunters questioning the motives of NDOW.
“They want to take this money and take it away from what the intent was,” Ellison said, criticizing NDOW for how it has been spent. He says when predator control drops, so do deer herds, and so will the sage grouse.
Ellison would rather see the money distributed to individual counties, which could then spend it as they see fit.
He believes AB 101 will “fly through” the Assembly, but is hopeful that it can be stopped in the Senate.
If not, this issue could continue to get bounced around as political winds shift in Carson City — a place that has its own law of the jungle.