Our personal names probably say more about our parents than about us. Corporation, business, agency names often suggest a purpose, product or mission; a short-hand way of understanding what they are about.
Take, for example, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) and its nine-member politically appointed overseers, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners (NBWC).
The word, ‘wildlife’, in each title would reasonably suggest to ordinary citizens that wildlife has a priority in the functioning of the agency. Presumably that would include a concern for unnecessary suffering or death of any wildlife species. Why would it not?
In short, what’s to worry about with wildlife in Nevada given the agency’s very name?
Well, sometimes names are misleading.
Let’s take a look at a few long-standing issues that raise serious questions about the commitment of NDOW/NBWC to its duty to wildlife in Nevada.
(Keep in mind that Nevada Revised Statutes 501.100 clearly states that wildlife is a public asset, not a possession of NDOW/NBWC or sportsmen.)
- Poorly Regulated Fur Trapping:
Fur trapping is currently legal in Nevada. Every year, approximately 1000 trappers set upon our public lands for 4 months or so in winter, each trapper placing anywhere from a few to…literally…hundreds of indiscriminate leghold traps, snares and other devices which can capture any animal or bird that is unlucky enough to place itself within reach of these dangerous items.
Because most traps are not immediately fatal for the animal (some are caught by a foot, snares strangle their victims), most states require trappers to check their traps at regular intervals. The American Veterinarian Association recommends 24 hours; NBWC allows 96 hours in Nevada despite many, many calls over decades for a shorter interval. Whether trappers view 96-hour visitation as a requirement or a suggestion is sometimes uncertain.
(A few years ago, a prominent Nevada trapper was cited for not visiting his traps for nearly two weeks).
Fur trappers are asked to submit self-reports of trapping activity to NDOW at the end of each trapping season. Showing what trappers intended to catch and what they didn’t, we know trappers capture many thousands of non-target animals and birds over a decade. Rabbits are most common victims, but domestic pets, birds and livestock are included.
(The graphs were compiled by me from NDOW data.)
What has NDOW/NBWC done to address the needless suffering and death of many thousand non-target victims of trapping in Nevada?
- Incidental Capture of Mountain Lions in Bobcat Traps:
Because of Nevada’s topography … basin and range … bobcats and mountain lions live amongst each other in similar habitat. Bobcat trappers frequently/incidentally catch mountain lions in their traps.
(It is illegal to intentionally trap mountain lions in Nevada.)
Mountain lions suffer severe injuries to their legs and feet. Strangulation from snares and starvation from trap injuries have been documented by NDOW staff.
In 2017, a University of Nevada, Reno graduate student who received her Ph.D. studying mountain lions in western Nevada published a scientific paper in a prestigious wildlife journal reporting that a number of her study subjects had been injured from trap encounters. She recommended further study and consideration of mitigation measures.
Given the ecological importance of the mountain lion, the state’s top carnivore, a charismatic animal which is relatively scarce in Nevada, what has NDOW/NBWC done to improve this situation?
(For readers who wish to see visual evidence of trap damage to lions, NDOW photos are available here. Viewer discretion is advised.)
- NBWC Years-long ‘War’ on Coyotes and Mountain lions.
For twenty years, NDOW/NBWC has conducted a ‘war’ on coyotes, mountain lions and ravens under the guise of ‘predator control’….now, euphemistically known as ‘wildlife damage management’. (Ravens are a special case and won’t be discussed here.)
Coyotes and mountain lions are targeted because of a mistaken belief (akin to an old wives’ tale) by sportsmen and wildlife commissioners that those animals are responsible for Nevada’s declining mule deer numbers.
(Hint: It is habitat and climate, not lions and coyotes.)
Though the ‘war’ was mandated by a legislative initiative 20 years ago, NBWC has enthusiastically pursued it, funded by a $3 surcharge on all tag applications. Current annual revenue to fund the ‘war’ is close to $1 million.
NBWC contracts with USDA/APHIS/Wildlife Services (WS), the federal predator-killing agency, to kill coyotes and mountain lions for so-called projects around the state. WS is given no instructions, no quotas, no prohibition on random killing of uninvolved animals, no requirement to be selective or specific with its targets.
WS conducts the ‘war’ with its standard tools: traps of various types, snares (wire nooses), guns, airplanes, cyanide ‘bombs’, killing pups in dens by various means. WS is also exempt from Nevada’s trap check requirements. Lions have been left in snares for weeks before recovery by WS, turning into mummified corpses.
Since FY2000, NBWC has spent about $4.5 million with WS to kill over 10,000 coyotes and over 200 mountain lions while watching its mule deer population decline by about 50,000 animals statewide. (FY 2021 estimate – 84,000; FY 2000 estimate – 133,000)..
While the Nevada Legislature got this ‘war’ started, NDOW/NBWC could ask the legislature, now (or in the past) to eliminate the statute, based on many years of abject failure. Have they done so?
- Coyote Killing Contests
Over the past three years, Nevada had about three dozen so-called contests, often organized by a local bar or retail outlet in a rural area. Contestants register, pay a fee, kill as many coyotes as possible in a day, and receive prizes and recognition for their efforts. A banquet and adult beverages may follow.
Event participants claim killing contests are a nice social event, good family fun. Some say their participation in such events is a ‘constitutional Right’.
While coyote populations in Nevada are not threatened by such activity, coyote population dynamics are well known, suggesting random killing of coyotes leads to heightened reproduction, not fewer animals and does nothing to protect favored game species.
Unpopular with the public, several states have banned killing contests. . NBWC twice refused a ban in 2015; it is now reconsidering the matter.
What if anything will NBWC do about this issue? Who knows?
SO, WHAT’S TO SAY ABOUT THIS?
It can be a mistake to ‘paint NDOW and NBWC with the same brush’.
NDOW is a state agency with qualified employees doing excellent work (for the most part) for Nevada citizens….much of which goes unnoticed…and unappreciated…by the general public.
NBWC is a political body of nine persons, appointed by the governor. The only statutory requirement for appointment to the wildlife commission is that sportsmen appointees (who fill 5 of 9 seats) must possess a hunting, fishing (or both) license 3 of the past 4 years. No other qualification is necessary for any appointee.
NBWC also serves as trustees, managing wildlife as a Public Trust asset.
Here are my concerns about the issues presented above:
- Is it possible a worrisome…even profound…lack of respect for the lives of certain wildlife species exists within our wildlife management system? If so, how pervasive might it be? Is this attitude, if present, consistent with the public good?
- Is it possible that our wildlife management system may know about, condone, even encourage unnecessary and unwarranted destruction of public property? (Wildlife is public property.) If so, how pervasive is it? Should a state agency be able to destroy public property without sufficient reason?
I have my answers to these questions and where the bulk of the responsibility rests.
What’s your view?
Top photo caption and credit: Dead coyotes on a fence – photo: Carol Von Canon, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Don Molde is a 50-year Reno resident, retired psychiatrist, co-founder of Nevada Wildlife Alliance, former board member of Defenders of Wildlife, and former board member of the Nevada Humane Society. He has been active in wildlife advocacy for 45 years. Support Don’s work here.
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence.