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Deer and predators: NDOW charts new course
by Ira Hansen
Jun 14, 2008 | 573 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For 15 years in a row here in the Tribune I have written an annual column on the status of Nevada’s deer herd and, remarkably, the numbers have barely moved, with the herd remaining at rock-bottom levels: a little more than 100,000 animals. By comparison, we reached a peak in 1988, when 250,000 deer roamed the state.

That’s the bad news. But hope is on the horizon – at least the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) is making major strides to, within its rather limited constraints, do something about it.

In the early 1990s, when the big decline first occurred, many of us were deeply concerned about what we saw as a seriously disproportionate ratio of predators – mainly coyotes and mountain lions – to deer. With the herd down and predators up, recovery would be delayed or never occur.

We were dismissed as ignoramuses, throwbacks to another era of “a good predator is a dead predator” mentality. But during the entire decade of the 1990s, despite yearly predictions by NDOW of rapid herd growth, with mild winters and lots of moisture – picture perfect conditions for growth – the herd barely changed, even going down further. Why? With an entrenched bureaucracy looking for every excuse to avoid the obvious, “predators” were ignored.

But thankfully, mainly to the unceasingly aggressive work of a Las Vegas resident Cecil Fredi, founder of “Hunters Alert,” which distributes hundreds of thousands of newsletters all over Nevada, the predator issue was kept at the political forefront. Gov. Jim Gibbons was elected with overwhelming sportsmen support, with a mandate to do something about the predator/prey imbalance.

One of Gibbons’ first acts was to appoint a new director for NDOW, Ken Mayer. I met with Ken on Thursday, and he told me the governor said, “Ken, you have one major responsibility – rebuild our deer herd.”

Ken has assembled a very dedicated and committed team of professionals all pulling in the same direction. Russ Mason, the new Chief of Game for NDOW, has a predator management background, as does Kevin Lansford, the new furbearer/predator biologist, and NDOW now has six predator management/study programs in place throughout Nevada.

Many of the predator control tools of past years are no longer available, and budgets remain tight. But thanks to the efforts at the legislature by Fredi and Hunters Alert, a portion of our tag application money is now used to help fund predator control, and donations by sportsmen combined give almost $500,000 a year to finance the efforts.

Having said that, I am a realist and do not expect miracles from NDOW. Mayer & Co. do not have a crystal ball, unlimited funds or a blank slate to work with. Political parameters are strong. Still, simply an acknowledgement that yes, indeed, predators can and do have at times major impacts is a refreshing rebuttal to the head-buried-in-the-sand approach of the NDOW of yesteryear.

So, the superstructure is being raised. Contracts and cooperative arrangements with Wildlife Services have been arranged to remove problem animals; lion hunters have been hired; specific fawning areas have been targeted; even raven removal from key Sage Grouse breeding areas are being conducted. NDOW has entered a new aggressive phase, scientifically conducted and monitored.

When you consider four years ago NDOW was in denial about predators, the turnaround is truly remarkable. Without a doubt, times are changing for the better and a new optimism has replaced the sense of frustration so many of us shared. Thanks to a governor who listens, the new proactive NDOW lead by Mayer gives great hope for the future.

Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks, owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing and his radio talk show can be heard Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. on 99.1 FM.
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