In 1992, Nevada was suffering a multi-year drought. Governor Miller declared a drought disaster for several northern Nevada counties. Shortly after, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners (NBWC) was set to establish parameters for the upcoming waterfowl hunting season.
Because waterfowl cross state and national borders during migration, they (ducks, geese, swans) are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) establishes broad guidelines for season length, bag, and possession limits for the flyway states. Nevada is in the Pacific Flyway.
Individual states within the flyway are expected to set local hunt parameters beneath the umbrella guidelines provided by USFWS. A maximum 90-day hunting season under the guidelines means an individual state, depending on local conditions, could set a hunting season anywhere from 0 to 90 days and be within USFWS guidelines.
The idea is, of course, that USFWS doesn’t want to dictate specific hunt parameters for each individual state. Rather, states are supposed to do the “right thing,” making local determinations dictated by local conditions under the umbrella recommendations from USFWS.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) biologists nearly always recommended the longest season length/largest bag and possession limits allowable under federal guidelines. Despite the continued drought, there were few, if any, downward adjustments by NDOW.
After watching this process for several years, I chose the summer of the 1992 Wildlife Commission meeting, when it set the conditions for waterfowl hunting for the following season, to challenge this absurdity. Prior to the meeting, I confirmed my understanding of the issue with USFWS.
As expected, NBWC heard the NDOW biologist recommend the longest season length and the largest bag/possession limits allowable under 1992 USFWS Pacific Flyway guidelines. He ended his presentation by stating the department regarded these recommendations as conservative.
When the opportunity for public comment began, I asked the following questions:
- Isn’t it true that Nevada is in a 5-year drought?
- Didn’t the Governor just declare a drought disaster emergency in several counties, including those where waterfowl hunting occurs?
- Didn’t your biologist just recommend the longest/largest hunt conditions allowable under USFWS guidelines?
- Didn’t he use the word conservative in describing his recommendations?
After receiving a tentative sounding ‘Yes” to all my questions, the Commission Chairman clearly wondered where this was headed. I then delivered what I thought would be the “coup de grace.”
“If the largest and longest USFWS recommendations are conservative, what could possibly be radical? There has to be a radical if there is a conservative.”
The Commission Chairman, after a moment of silence, nodded his head to indicate that the NDOW Director should respond. The Director took a moment and then said the following:
“It would be radical if the Commission or the Department took any action that deprived a sportsman of a legal opportunity to kill something.”
Suddenly, with that startling pronouncement, everything became very, very clear.
Now I knew the source of my years-long irritation and confusion when attending Wildlife Commission meetings. Not only did they speak a different language using words of English, but wildlife was also not the primary focus of their deliberations. That distinction belonged to hunter opportunity.
Curiously, hunter opportunity is not listed in the statutory description of the duties of the wildlife commission. NRS 501.105
Why shorten the hunting season, reduce bag and possession limits, and risk criticism from unhappy hunters? Somebody might wish to try their luck, bad conditions or not. It would be radical to deprive that person of his/her opportunity despite lousy conditions and lack of ducks.
“Waterfowl would fly on by”, I was told by biologists, “if local conditions are bad. Most hunters will voluntarily stay home.”
If ducks, geese, and swans need a break in Nevada during a drought, they are on their own.
How could I have failed to understand this perversion of language, logic, and values for so long? Even more puzzling, why do these conditions persist to this day?
What Does the Public Not Know?
The agency name, Nevada Department of Wildlife, would reasonably suggest to the naïve public that the welfare and well-being of wildlife is a priority; that the lives of individual animals and birds have value and deserve respect. Yet, it is easy to cast doubt on those assumptions, especially its euphemisms.
Euphemisms for killing animals and birds abound. The public is generally unaware, for example, that grizzly bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep are said to be harvested as though they were soybeans grown on a Nebraska farm.
An elk, a deer, a black bear shot with bow and arrow, is harvested? Really? Would Orwell even agree?
Clearly, such terms are meant to dampen any humane concerns that might otherwise be extended to the victims. The public is lulled to complacency with the agricultural analogy until, of course, it pulls back the rhetorical curtain and has a look at what harvest entails.
Coyote killing contests have been in the news recently.
The public argues that a disorderly pile of dead coyotes, killed in a one-day contest, with no management purpose, in violation of ethical hunting guidelines, dumped in a hotel parking lot for selfies with participants and then discarded in the desert, shows a profound and unacceptable lack of respect for the lives of the victims.
Those who defend killing contests say they represent a fine family outing, great for the kids, with pleasant social opportunities for participants to get together, share an adult beverage, and have a nice meal.
Participants prefer the term, Coyote Calling Contests, for obvious reasons, though gratuitous … even joyful … the killing of coyotes is the result.
How about the bears?
Public concern about the well-being of Nevada’s black bears in the face of large Sierra fires has been met by ‘counterintuitive’ discounting of public concern. The fate of individual bears is of no concern, it is suggested when considering larger population issues. The Nevada black bear population numbers only a few hundred.
A Way Forward
Hunting, fishing, and trapping are exempt from Nevada’s animal cruelty statutes. NRS 574.200
Heavily laden with sportsmen, unburdened by but one member of the public, the Wildlife Commission needs a remodeling job. Its composition may have been proper 50 years ago, but no longer.
Hunters number barely 2% of the state’s population yet have a stranglehold on wildlife management.
According to a recent NDOW Wildlife Values Survey, mutualists outnumber traditionalists 2:1. Yet, the public has virtually no significant voice in wildlife management. Until that changes, wildlife will not gain any additional respect, appreciation, or value that it deserves.
Little has changed since that 1992 meeting. To reform the Wildlife Commission, and its corresponding county advisory boards will require legislative action. If you have an interest in truly democratic representation on the Wildlife Commission, it is time to begin to call your Nevada legislators about this issue.
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.