Nevada rocky cliff over desert landscape.
 
Photograph of lion climbing down rocky ledges.

THE STATUS OF LIONS IN NEVADA

Nevada's predator management projects have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars killing lions.

Nevada still uses the Comprehensive Mountain Lion Management Plan written in 1995. Decisions regarding mountain lions in Nevada appear to be increasingly dictated by politics rather than sound science. Nevada's mountain lion sport hunting quota remains high: 243 lions in the 2015-16 season. The 20% quota exceeds the 12 to 16% that is widely accepted as the top limit for maintaining viable lion populations in good circumstances, and does not take into account many other causes of mortality. Lions have also been killed through the legislatively mandated Predator Management Program. Between July 2016 and June 2017, $570,000 may be used to kill mountain lions.

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Nevada's Mountain Lion Management


NDOW has been managing mountain lions a big game mammal since 1965. Nevada still uses the Comprehensive Mountain Lion Management Plan written in 1995. In that plan, the Nevada Department of Wildlife stated that its goals and objectives are to:

  • maintain mountain lion distribution in reasonable densities throughout the state;
  • control mountain lions creating a public safety hazard or causing property damage;
  • provide recreational, educational and scientific use opportunities of the mountain lion resource;
  • maintain a balance between mountain lions and their prey; and
  • manage mountain lions as a meta-population.
Pie chart showing lions killed from 2000-2014 with 73% sport hunt, 12% depredation, 4% other and 11% predator removal projects.

Unfortunately, the plan has not done much to benefit lions and is merely a way to set annual hunting quotas and predator culling goals for specific game management areas.

A review of available documents found:

  • There is no mention of mountain lions in the NDOW Comprehensive Strategic Plan 2004-2009 (the all-encompassing document that addresses how NDOW will protect the natural resources under their jurisdiction).
  • Mountain lions are barely acknowledged as even existing within the 629 pages of the 2006 Nevada Wildlife Action Plan.
  • Mountain lions are not included in the state's 2013 Wildlife Action Plan, despite 46 pages being allocated for Nevada mammals.
  • The 1995 Cougar Management Plan was still referred to as the State's standard plan in a 2008 Mountain Lion Status Report.
  • The only "plans" which reference mountain lions at all are the Nevada Predation Management Plan, and the NDOW's Regional Hunting Quota List.

Human Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Nevada

Since 1917 (the first year records are available) until 2015, an estimated 8,510 mountain lions have been killed by humans in Nevada, with 80 percent of these deaths occurring after 1965 when mountain lions were classified as game animals.

This figure does not include:

  • many of the lion deaths from road accidents
  • secondary poisoning
  • kittens or injured adults euthanized by NDOW
  • death by unknown causes
  • intraspecific strife from home range disruption
  • poaching
  • the "shoot-shovel-and-shut up" practices espoused by some ranchers
 
Graph of human-caused lion mortality in Nevada.


Hunting Mountain Lions in Nevada

Nevada's Mountain Lion Hunting Season runs all year, from March 1 through February 28. Night hunting is also allowed. Nevada's 29 Game Management Units (GMUs) are combined into three hunting regions (Western, Eastern, and Southern). Hunting quotas are established for each of these regions rather than for individual GMUs.

When the quota (also called "harvest objective") has been met for a given hunting region, the lion season is closed in that region. With this policy it is possible that some Game Management Units might experience greater lion mortality than others within the same hunting region.


Nevada's 2015-16 Lion Harvest Objectives

  • Western Region: 83 lions.
  • Eastern Region: 111 lions.
  • Southern Region: 49 lions
  • Total Allowed Kills: 243 mountain lions.

In 2003, Nevada provided a gender breakdown of its mountain lion harvests for the years 1998 through 2001. During this 4-year period 41 percent (282) of the total human-caused mountain lion mortalities were female cougars.

According to MLF's 11 western state study of human-caused mountain lion mortalities (1992-2001) the Nevada Game Management Units (GMUs) most responsible for mountain lion deaths were numbers 12, 11, 5, 6, and 2. From 1997 to 2001, these GMUs accounted for 285 human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

During this time period these GMUs were responsible for 29 percent of human-caused mountain lion mortalities while encompassing only 11 percent of Nevada's mountain lion habitat. GMU-12 was ranked as Nevada's number one killing field during the study period with an average mortality density rating of 1.5.

Map of Nevada's Cougar Management Units

Politics and Mountain Lion/Predator Control Directives in Nevada

Decisions regarding mountain lions in Nevada appear to be increasingly dictated by politics rather than sound science. Greg Tanner, a wildlife biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, is quoted in an April 12, 2004 High Country News article as saying that "Game commissions make decisions based on what they hear from their sportsmen constituents."

This opinion of political manipulation of the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commission (NBWC) by hunting groups was reinforced on December 5, 2009 when the NBWC approved three projects sought by private sportsmen groups to kill the predators of mule deer and sage grouse — specifically mountain lions. This approval was made despite arguments against the plan presented by the Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

In a March 9, 2010, Reno Gazette Journal news article Tony Wasley, a NDOW mule deer specialist, stated that controlling predators won't stop the disappearance of the sagebrush-covered terrain that deer depend on in Nevada and much of the West. "We're talking about a landscape-scale phenomenon here," Wasley said. "The [Nevada deer] population is limited by habitat. Where there is insufficient habitat, all the predator control in the world won't result in any benefit." Unfortunately his argument, and those of fellow biologists, has not debunked the popular opinion of many hunters (that an exploding mountain lion population is eradicating Nevada's deer herd) or those of their sympathetic lawmakers.

Also in March 2010 the implementation of the special mountain lion removal plan was put on hold when, citing lack of full support from Nevada officials, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services (WS) refused to carry it out. As a result of this refusal, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commission has now created the Mule Deer Restoration Sub-Committee with the stated purpose of helping to restore mule deer numbers in the state. There is some question as to the impartiality of this committee. At its second public meeting on April 15, 2010, committee liaisons with the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, Nevada Farm Bureau, and Wildlife Services (the agency which carries out the state's predator control directives) were announced.


Predator Management Program and the $3 Fee

AB291 Introduced at the 71st session of the Nevada State Legislature on March 6, 2001 sought to establish a fee for all Nevada hunt permit applications to be used for predator management. NRS 502.253 was signed into law May 31, 2001. This legislation created an additional application processing fee ($3) for all game tags to be used by NDOW for costs related to:

  1. Programs for the management and control of injurious predatory wildlife;
  2. Wildlife management activities relating to the protection of nonpredatory game animals, sensitive wildlife species and related wildlife habitat;
  3. Conducting research, as needed, to determine successful techniques for managing and controlling predatory wildlife, including studies necessary to ensure effective programs for the management and control of injurious predatory wildlife; and
  4. Programs for the education of the general public concerning the management and control of predatory wildlife.

According to the March 2016 draft of Nevada's Predator Management Plan FY 2017, there are three projects relating to mountain lions, but five total programs which amount to $570,000.

  1. Project 22 - NDOW funding USDA Wildlife Services to kill mountain lions using aerial gunning, hounds, calling, call boxes, shooting, foot-hold traps, and snares with the intended result of enhancing mule deer and other big game populations. Project 22 encompasses three subprojects relating to lions.
    • Subproject 22-01 — $90,000 to lethally removing mountain lions to proactively protect reintroduced California bighorn sheep.
    • Subproject 22-16 — $120,000 for monitoring sage-grouse, mule deer, mountain lion and coyote populations prior to lethal treatment of predators.
    • Subproject 22-074 — $100,000 to remove mountain lions for the protection of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
  2. Project 32 — $160,000 to collar black bears and mountain lions, determine their interactions at kill sites and how this could potentially have effects on mule deer populations and livestock.
  3. Project 37 — $100,000 to Wildlife Services, private houndsmen and private trappers to kill mountain lions believed to be threatening sensitive game populations.

Slice of Nevada Discusses Mountain Lions

07/24/15 A Radio Interview with MLF Staff and Nevada Volunteers

MLF interview on America Matters Media's program "Slice of Nevada" to discuss mountain lion issues in the state of Nevada. Featured on this program are MLF associate director Lynn Cullens, Nevada Volunteer Field Representative Leah Sturgis, Volunteer Honey Tapley, and long time lion activist Don Molde. Listen to the podcast discussion on hunting, trapping, ecosystem impacts, and population data.

Grim Anniversary

06/08/11 GUEST COMMENTARY: Camilla Fox, Reprinted with permission from the Animal Welfare Institute

The 80th anniversary of the passage of the Animal Damage Control Act in 2011 was hardly a cause for celebration. It was a time of mourning for each one of the millions of coyotes, foxes, wolves, bears, mountain lions, bobcats, badgers, Canada geese, cormorants, blackbirds and other wildlife killed under its authority.

Click here to open a new window and visit the agency's website...

Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Commonly abbreviated as: NDOW

Tony Wasley, Director

Main Office:
6980 Sierra Center Pkwy #120
Reno, NV 89511
(775) 688-1500
ndowinfo@ndow.org


Predator Staff Biologist
Pat Jackson
6980 Sierra Center Pkwy #120
Reno, NV 89511
pjackson@ndow.org
775-688-1676

Please write to the director and express your concern for lions in Nevada.

Thank NDOW when they take steps to protect our state's cougars. When they fall short of expectations, politely ask for policy reform and more officer training.
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