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Commentary

Without wildlife management plans of their own, many Elko County residents get the benefit of multiple agencies for managing wildlife damage. Livestock owners in Elko County get millions of dollars’ worth of USDA-Wildlife Services and Nevada Department of Agriculture services, annually, in managing coyotes, mountain lions, and ravens.

Without mule deer damage management plans of their own, owners of large properties, ranches and alfalfa farms get fences built by the state and compensated with hunting tags for elk, deer and antelope through Nevada’s very own Department of Wildlife. These local property owners are directly serviced and/or compensated for the damages caused by the offending wildlife whether it be unprotected coyotes or NDOW-managed deer and lions. SCA and its members shouldn’t be excluded from these same benefits.

The article “Mule deer on the rise in Spring Creek” was extremely lacking in realistic options for managing the increasing mule deer nuisance, damage and safety threat in Spring Creek. The damage to landscaping and trees was about the only problem pointed out. In SCA there are also multiple deer-automobile collisions that cause thousands in damage to automobiles and threaten the safety of the people inside those automobiles. The deer also die a miserable, horrible, death and the venison is wasted.

What about the safety threat to our pets and the literal stomping a deer can give a dog or a child? I had a wounded doe (from deer-automobile collision) in my yard last year that wouldn’t run; I’d hate to see anybody’s kid approach such an animal, not to mention the belligerence of locally habituated bucks in the rut.

Yes, there are these and other real problems associated with mule deer in Spring Creek. Yes, they should be managed. Yes, they can be managed. And, Nevada Department of Wildlife should be leading the management of mule deer in Spring Creek, because NDOW was mandated that legal responsibility for the entire state of Nevada!

There are basically three realistic options that NDOW could choose to address the mule deer problem in SCA. One, reduce deer problems by reducing deer numbers. Two, mitigate damages by compensating property owners for deer-caused damages. Three, provide incentive to keep the deer and accept damages.

Oops, I guess there is a fourth option, do nothing.

Preferably NDOW would choose some combination of the first three options. Let’s look at what the Department could do for option one, if it chose to. NDOW could trap and relocate the deer after satisfactory health inspection, perhaps to Northern Washoe County. NDOW could trap or shoot and kill the deer, and donate or sell them. NDOW could permit an outside entity (business or government agency) to trap and/or shoot the deer. SCA members would probably be required to foot some portion of the bill.

Along the lines of option 2 above NDOW currently operates the Landowner Damage Compensation Tag program. An option based on this principle would probably work well and fund itself if SCA would allow controlled hunting. Basically the landowner, SCA, gets a certain number of deer hunting tags based on the number of deer in SCA (which correlates to level of damages). The tags could be sold by SCA, for a couple thousand dollars each, resulting in substantial annual income. The proceeds of which could be used by SCA to fund a mule deer damage control program.

Fencing and exclusion materials could be provided to SCA members for free or greatly reduced rates. Landscape plants that deer do not like could be promoted and provided. Disposal of dead deer/roadkill could be funded.

Professional hunting guides could implement a controlled hunting program on SCA properties such as the shooting range and campgrounds — maybe an archery hunt for disabled veterans or minors on golf course. SCA could teach a hunters safety course, and gain additional community support. Twenty “Area 10” deer tags at $2,000 each and a raffle and party could easily bring in $40,000 to $50,000 for SCA annually!

Option three, SCA could enroll in NDOW’s Landowner Incentive Program or some government equivalent, to help fund the management of invasive weeds and vegetation, much of which attracts mule deer and other wildlife, like spotted knapweed in the summer. These type of programs don’t typically offer enough financial assistance alone to cover significant management options for the long term, but what the heck, why not? After all, the invasive weeds we have in Spring Creek are spreading throughout northern Nevada.

Some, apparently including NDOW, would argue that NDOW’s continued encouragement of discussion on this topic is a start, but from my experience it’s closer to the fourth option identified above. This option allows NDOW not to take the responsibility they are tasked with and allows the deer-related damage to continue.

Encouragement of an SCA-specific “mule deer management plan” seems like a joke; almost nothing in the plan would work or be legal without permission from NDOW. Endless discussions, meetings, plans without action, not only promote managerial inactivity but it promotes other methods that might work (and many are illegal) for property owners trying to protect their property. Many of these options include feeding deer grain so they bloat and die, shooting them with pellet guns, paintball guns, bows, and sling shots, having dogs chase them, or harassing them, etc.

About the only legal method is fencing and exclusion, which has limited effect on habituated deer.

NDOW’s offer of assistance is nice but off the mark, leading action by NDOW is required if mule deer damage management is going to happen legally in SCA. NDOW should step up and take initiative in the active management of mule deer in SCA.

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Sam Sanders is a wldlife biologist with Humboldt Wildlife in Spring Creek.

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