Nevada Wildlife Biologists Recommend Fewer Elk, Deer tags

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RENO, Nev. (AP) - Nevada wildlife biologists are recommending fewer hunting tags this year for elk, deer and antelope after wildfires, drought and a harsh winter in some areas led to poor survival rates for fawns and calves.

Recommendations for desert, California, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are about the same as last year.

In this year's survey of big game populations, biologists estimate Nevada's mule deer numbers at 108,000, down from 114,000 in 2007 and 23 percent below average, according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

The population estimates and biologists' recommendations will be discussed Saturday when the Nevada Wildlife Commission concludes a
two-day meeting in Reno by setting tag quotas for this year's hunting season.

Once quotas are set, hunters who applied for big game tags earlier this spring are entered into the annual draw, or lottery, that is conducted in June by an independent contractor.

Biologists said the winter of 2006-2007 left many Nevada water basins near or below 50 percent of average, forcing deer to travel greater distances for water and forage and exposing malnourished fawns to predators.

"For many of our central Nevada herds the summer alone did (in) the fawns even before the winter hit," the report said.

"For those herds that fared better through the summer, many were faced with difficult winter conditions that took its toll on fawns in January and February, evidenced by the third lowest spring fawn ratio on record."

Statewide, the Wildlife Department is recommending 9,043 resident rifle tags for mule deer - the most popular among hunters. Specific quotas are set for hunting areas around the state.

The recommendation compares with a quota of 10,265 approved by the commission last year.

For antelope, 126 fewer tags were suggested for the main hunt.

For bull elk, 728 resident rifle tags were recommended, compared with 778 approved last year. The Department of Wildlife also recommended 1,210 cow elk tags, down 210 from 2007.

Nevada's elk population was estimated at 9,500, just 100 more than last year and the lowest increase since 1990 when the agency began an effort to bolster the species.

The number of elk calves documented in 2007 was poor and one of the lowest statewide figures ever in Nevada," the Wildlife Department report said.

After an average winter, range conditions will depend on more summer moisture, the report said.

"This in turn will dictate whether antler growth and better calf production are realized," it said.

Still, the report said hunters lucky enough to receive an elk tag in the annual lottery "should enjoy good hunting conditions with overall healthy elk populations and good availability of mature bulls for harvest."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)