Vote to Double Nevada Deer Hunt Tags Prompts Dispute

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RENO, Nev. (AP) - State wildlife commissioners' vote to nearly double the number of mule deer tags for hunters this fall is prompting disagreement over what the proper amount should be.

Commissioners, at a May 12 meeting, authorized 25,025 deer tags overall, up from 13,553 last year. For the popular rifle hunt, 14,580 tags were approved overall, up from 8,451 last year.

The new quotas were slightly less than those recommended by Nevada Department of Wildlife biologists based on population counts by air and "wildlife science," agency spokesman Chris Healy said.

They come a year after the commission, then dominated by appointees of former Gov. Jim Gibbons, slashed the number of deer tags by 25 percent because of drought and other habitat conditions that have taken a toll on the state's deer herds.

"The bottom line is there are huntable bucks out there," Healy told The Associated Press. "We're missing an opportunity if we don't approve a lot of tags for our sportsmen to hunt."

Commission member Scott Raines said the big boost in deer tags doesn't make sense when the state's deer population has been so flat. He questions the science behind NDOW biologists' recommendations.

"I can't believe they went ahead and increased it that much. It's crazy and nuts," said Raines, who was on the losing end of a 6-3 vote in favor of the higher quotas. "It looks like it's going to likely be bad on deer."

The dispute prompted the recent resignations of three of the five members of the commission's Elko County Wildlife Advisory Board.

Board Chairman Ken Wellington said they resigned effective July 1 after their vote in favor of NDOW's recommendations for buck tags drew criticism from a small but vocal group of hunters led by county Commissioner Charlie Myers.

"We were evaluating the science involved in it, and they didn't want to listen to that," Wellington said. "Not one could give evidence that contradicted the science of NDOW."

Myers said advisory board members should reflect the wishes of county residents.

"(Their) job isn't to agree with NDOW, publicly support NDOW or automatically side with NDOW because (they) feel they know more than the public, it is to take public input," Myers told the Elko Daily Free Press.

Elko County businesses would have faced a potential revenue loss of $3.8 million from hunters under the rival proposal for much lower tag quotas, according to NDOW spokesman Joe Doucette.

Healy said critics support lower quotas because of a belief that they will lead to more trophy deer with healthy antlers. But genetics and habitat conditions are more important factors in
producing trophy deer, he said.

"When the science says you can give out more tags, that's something that can be celebrated," Healy said. "We're the scientists ... We fly the flights and see the numbers and know what's going on out there (with deer)."

NDOW's goal is to have a ratio of 25 to 30 bucks per 100 does, he added, and in some areas of the state the ratio has reached nearly 40 bucks per 100 does.

Nevada is home to an estimated 112,000 mule deer, down from a peak of 240,000 deer in 1988, but up from 95,000 deer in 1976 when the draw system for tags was launched.

The population decline has been traced to a variety of factors, including increased development, habitat fragmentation, severe winters, drought and wildfires.