Scott Raine on hunting, wildlife, and conservation

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Predation, Water, Wildlife,
and the Stewards of our Lands

by Scott Raine

Mule deer bucksNevada - What goals should biologists be working towards? Nevada Department Of Wildlife (NDOW) Biologists need to work towards the goal of enhancing wildlife.  Biologists do not need to be studying that which every biologist has studied since the beginning of time. The effects of predators on their prey are not in doubt. Every biologist does not need to re-invent the wheel. Lions, Coyotes, Ravens, Magpies, and all other predators hunt and kill every animal they can, including those yet to be born. Those Fangs and Claws are made for killing, and that’s just what they will do. Studies to determine the age of the predator population and attempts to harvest the “older more experienced killers” who many NDOW biologists blame for a greater part of predation are irrelevant and not useful. Perhaps it may be true that older predators kill more of some population than younger ones, but so what? The next generation is in training and is killing something. They are eating, and they will be the new experienced killers in the length of time it takes to complete a study.

How many studies does it take? How many Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees does it take to figure out what every hunter and woodsman has known since the beginning of time?

The path of NDOW should be clear and simple: Who is going to hunt our big game? Someone or something is going be killing our Big Game animals, it is simply up to us to decide who or what. If we leave the predators alone, they will be doing our hunting for us. If we remove the predators and don’t hunt game animals ourselves then famine and disease will do the killing. We don’t get to decide WHAT happens to our wildlife, we only get to determine WHO or what does it.

It seems to this author that it is a lot easier to manage game and maintain optimal game levels when the hunters have to purchase their tags. The other killers - predators, disease, and famine- don’t need tags.

Reducing predators to a manageable level, and keeping their level reduced, encouraging water development throughout the State, and reducing the threats of wildfires while enhancing the responsible use of our lands through increases in grazing should be the focus of our department of wildlife.

Allies in the battle to increase a healthy game population: Ranchers, cattlemen, sheepherders, politicians, BLM…

Antelope Spring private water sourceRanchers, cattlemen, sheepherders, and related groups of people are those who should be the greatest allies of wildlife within the State. The long-term development of all our living resources benefit from the same basic tenants of good stewardship.

Our groups both benefit from water developments, predator control, and good grazing practices. One example of this that has come to the forefront in recent years is wildfires, and the old maxim stands: If you don’t graze it, you will burn it. Grazing is perhaps our best tool to use in the prevention of wildfires. One of the poorest practices that is being exercised right now is the concept of letting the land “rest” after a fire. Scientific research done by the University of Nevada has shown that this “rest” from grazing has no benefit to the land. These studies are ignored for political reasons.

What prohibiting grazing after a fire clearly does do is let the grasses grow so heavily that the area will easily burn again.

Land that has had mild to moderate amounts of grazing will burn far more slowly and any fires will be far easier to contain than those on un-grazed land.

Grasses and young forbs are the “transition fuels” that allow wildfires to travel along between brush and larger fuels. By reducing the concentrations of these transition fuels, fire spread rates are greatly reduced.

The use of old-style crested wheat seeding creates lands that are both higher quality grazing lands and more fire resistant areas than those seeded with most of the seed mixes that have come into vogue within the past decade.

Mountain Springs, wildlife, and grazers

In a desert climate water is life. In many areas of Nevada, water, not feed, is the limiting factor for wildlife throughout much of the year.

Many mountain ranges and valleys in Nevada are covered in feed that is never touched by animals, but wildlife is very limited. The reason is obvious, it is a desert, it can be many miles or tens of miles between the nearest permanent water sources.

Horses and pronghorn grazing togetherThe greatest boon to water development for the direct benefit of wildlife throughout the State of Nevada over the last century and a half has been our ranchers and herders.

NDOW and several hunters organizations build and maintain many “guzzlers” throughout the State to benefit wildlife and give them the water they need to make it through the dry periods. For every guzzler that NDOW has installed there are many dozens of other water developments that have been made and maintained throughout the State over the years. These other water developments were for the most part installed by ranchers and sheepherders to the mutual benefit of their herds and the local wildlife. The many thousands of water troughs, spring boxes, water tanks, and other water developments installed by ranchers never cost the taxpayer anything, and yet our wildlife has flourished as a direct result of these efforts.

Guzzlers such as these provide vital water sources in areas in which wildlife could otherwise not exist in the hot summer months. While guzzlers are vital water sources, without aggressive predator management they become "Cat Feeders", funneling big game animals to make the decision of dying or thirst or getting their throats torn out at the only drinking hole for dozens of miles around.

Another major benefit of water developments installed by ranchers over the guzzlers installed by the government and private groups is that in many cases where ranchers develop the water, they have developed it in multiple locations throughout an area, usually no more than five miles apart, as opposed to the usual single guzzler within a large area. For ranches this makes sense, as it allows the use of a large portion of the range while minimizing weight-losing travel for their animals to water.

Why is this important, one may ask? Deer and bighorn commonly travel miles to water. Simply put, installing a single water source in an area with no alternatives creates a perfect environment for predators, especially mountain lions. Many guzzlers installed throughout the State have become “Cat Feeders” during the hot summer months when the wildlife face the decision of either dying from thirst or getting their throats torn out at the only water source for 10 miles. All the lions do is hang around the guzzlers and wait for lunch to come to them. Ranchers and grazers with predation problems either eliminated the predators or went broke.

The majority of old water developments and “spring boxes” were all installed by ranchers over the years. In modern days with the reduced grazing allotments, and a negative attitude towards grazers by the government, many of these water improvements are not being repaired or maintained and are going dry. All over the northern, central, and southern deserts there are dry tanks and troughs where once water was funneled into tanks during spring runoff, or pumped with windmills or gas pumps. These old wells are dry, and wildlife are going thirsty. When the ranchers leave, the water dries up and the deer and the antelope either go elsewhere or die.

Horses coming to a rancher's windmill.Increases in grazing and cooperative efforts by NDOW to encourage grazers to develop the water resources in their areas are far more efficient and effective ways of increasing and maintaining our water resources than attempting to use taxpayer funds to finance these water development projects.

Any hunter who has spent a lot of time in the mountains can attest to the great number of springs that have been destroyed by feral horses and the large number of dry reservoirs and water tanks to be found throughout the State. By encouraging, and cooperating with, ranchers in developing and enhancing these springs and water catchments, including assuring that ranchers can legally bring in the resources they need to do a proper job of spring and well enhancement without a mountain of red tape, we can greatly increase new water sources in remote locations, as well as preserve those that still exist, with minimal or no taxpayer expense. Remember, Nevada is the driest state in the Union and water is "gold."

The Greatest Allies of Wildlife

Cattle, sheep, and wildlife go hand in hand. Where the land is improved for the use of domesticated animals, it is almost always improved for the use of wildlife. Those that live on the land are the greatest potential allies of wildlife and should be treated by NDOW, the BLM, and all governmental organizations with the greatest possible respect. They should be given the widest possible latitude and encouragement to do what they need to do to enhance their stewardship of the lands around them, whether it be water development or predator control, especially on those federal and State lands that they graze by permit.

Nevada Youth Deer Hunting Tags
The Key to the next Generation of Nevada Hunters
by Mike Laughlin

"We have got to get more kids involved in hunting." This is a saying that you have heard many times in recent years. Recent data from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that hunter numbers in the United States declined 10 % between 1996 and 2006. This statistic points out a need for us to act now to stem this decline of young hunters.

Okay, how do we do this? The Nevada Division of Wildlife, NDOW, has all but given up on Mule Deer and has put their energy and dollar resources into other big game species reintroduction and management. How many Nevada kids will ever draw an elk, antelope, sheep or goat tag? Deer hunting and the availability of deer to hunt is of paramount importance for Nevada's youth if we are going to have game to hunt that you have a good chance to draw a tag for and to keep their interest in hunting and stop the decline of young hunters in our state.

There needs to be some aggressive action by NDOW to halt the decline of Mule Deer in this state. Predator control programs to increase mule deer numbers is one way we could start helping to bring back our deer. A study, published in The Journal of Wildlife Management- 2007, states, "Removing coyotes for livestock protection may increase densities of mule deer in the same area." What this suggests is “what is good for livestock is also good for deer numbers."
The big deer years in Nevada were years during which there were aggressive coyote and lion population-reduction programs. These control programs, implemented by the Animal Damage Control division of the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, were in place primarily to protect domestic sheep. Domestic sheep at that time acted as a buffer species for game animals. That means that domestic sheep were the primary food source of predators. When the domestic range-sheep industry disappeared from Nevada ranges, the amount of predator control efforts decreased, therefore, predators looked for other animals as a food source and Mule Deer numbers began to decline. This fact is hard for NDOW to accept, but today’s deer numbers tell the real story.

The current 2007 NDOW Predator Management Plan is filled with surveys, studies, etc. The bottom line is that predators need to be killed. Not all the scientific studies in the world will replace the needed reduction of numbers of predatory animals that are preying upon Nevada deer. The recovery of Nevada’s deer herds should be a principle focus of the predator management plan for 2007 and the future if we re going to have a huntable deer population to encourage Nevada youth hunting.

There was an old saying in the Animal Damage Control Program that I supervised years ago during the active years of predator control for livestock that said, “You are either a counter or a killer." and we damn sure were not counters.

James “Mike” Laughlin
(Retired) Supervisory Wildlife Biologist
U.S Department of Agriculture & U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Bachelor Science Degree – Wildlife Biology – Arizona State University; Tempe, Arizona 31 years working in nine Western states, Mexico, Provinces of Canada 

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Scott Raine
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Eureka, Nevada 89316


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