Tuesday, 30 September 1997 17:00

Predators up, deer down — is there any relationship?

Written by Ira Hansen
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Deer hunting in Nevada is an immensely popular activity, with, in a normal year, 50,000 - 75,000 people applying for deer tags. Of course, it goes without saying that you need deer, in quantity, to fill even a portion of the demand.

The problem right now is the deer herd is declining, in some areas sharply declining, and the biologists are publicly scratching their heads trying to explain why.

For, you see, the traditional reasons given, such as range conditions, severity of the winters, and other habitat-related items are all doing well; the herd should be expanding rapidly.

1 say the biologists are publicly playing dumb, because privately, many are at least acknowledging what many non-biologists have felt all along — that high predator populations are impacting deer herd recovery.

If you have invested several years of your life getting a college diploma, it's only natural that you would tend to look with a degree of skepticism at those of us in the uneducated masses who seek to tell you how to do your job, or how to interpret the evidence you've gathered. And, the louder the populace screams, the more entrenched your opinions can become. I'm certain that's the situation we find in Nevada today.

It should be noted that wildlife management is not an exact science and whether it's uneducated Ira Hansen or a biologist with a master's degree in wildlife management, the possibility exists that one or the other can be completely wrong, or that the truth lies somewhere in between.

The problem comes in when someone's credibility is on the line and personalities come into play.

For the biologists, people such as myself---an often outspoken critic of the Nevada Division of Wildlife—are viewed as loud-mouthed dopes who "don't know what in the hell they're talking about."

Conversely, the biologists are "overeducated idiots" who can't see the forest for the trees.

Right now, the evidence is growing that the uneducated folks are right on the money.

The most outspoken critic of NDOW's "bury their head in the sand when it comes to predators" attitude is Cecil Fredi of Las Vegas, who started an organization called "Hunters Alert."

This organization publishes a newsletter which is sent, on a sporadic basis, to all those who applied for deer tags.

It is a hard hitting, to the point newsletter which has been informing Nevadans about the predator situation and other problems at NDOW, since 1989.

NDOW loathes Hunters Alert and Cecil Fredi (along with others who publicly criticize their decisions) and are, therefore, reluctant to allow even a hairline crack to appear in their public positions. In effect, to admit that big game populations are being hammered by predators is to admit that Cecil Fredi and their other critics were right all along---even though, at every opportunity, Hunters Alert and the like were disparaged and laughed at as simpletons and Neanderthals, throwbacks to a more primitive time when all predators were seen as bad-While it is normal for wildlife populations to oscillate, it is not normal for deer populations to decline when the habitat is in excellent condition.

It's been funny listening to all the explanations coming from NDOW — everything from "a lack of selenium in the soil" to "there's a lot of things we just don't know about deer populations."

Actually, they know a hell of a lot about deer populations, but because the current situation doesn't fit into their preconceived, college educated formulas and theories, they pretend that there are some mysterious things happening that defy all the thousands of studies conducted over the last hundred years on deer.

To a layman such as myself, it's really not too hard to decipher. In the fall, they count the deer and break them down by categories, the most important being adult to juveniles.

Let's say, for example they have 75 juveniles per 100 adults.

In the spring, they count them again. It's normal to have a certain amount of loss between fall and spring, but the recent counts have dropped sharply and really weren't that great in the autumn to begin with.

Normally, starvation and heavy winters have been blamed for herd declines, but that doesn't fit now; there's lots of deer food and the winters have been on the mild side since 1993.

Because predatory influence was taught to them in college to be a very minimal factor, they automatically ignore the most glaring pieces of evidence.

To an uneducated simpleton, such as myself, it's a matter of deductive reasoning. O.K., the fawns are there in the fall but gone in the spring.

Starvation? No. Bad winters? No. Well, what eats fawns? Let's see; coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and golden eagles. Hmmmm, there's a whole

lot of coyotes running around right now and mountain lions are at peak numbers; bobcats and eagles are abundant; maybe that could be the answer.

"Well. Ira, you're ignorant. Everyone knows ---who are educated, anyway — that predators are good and have no impact overall.

Why, every textbook will tell you so. You're jumping to simplistic conclusions."

"O.K. let's see. The does are healthy, the fawns start off healthy, there's lots to eat. the winters have been mild, water is abundant --- what else can it be? What am I missing?"

"Well, there's a lot of things about deer we just don't understand."

Yeah, right

Deer and antelope populations in Nevada have been in decline for years. Fawn production, at least the number who survive their first year to become adults, is abysmally low.

I won't bore you with the numbers but trust me, NDOW's biologists are embarrassed by them.

Truth is, Cecil Fredi and Hunters Alert have been right all along but NDOW will never admit it.

It takes a real man to admit he was wrong and NDOW is led by Nevada's version of "Slick Willie," Willie Molini, so don't expect anything but rationalizations from them.

In the meantime, thousands are denied hunting opportunities and rural counties lose millions in potential revenue.

Until NDOW at least acknowledges a problem exists there will be no solutions.

Ira Hansen
Reprinted from The Daily Sparks Tribune June 4, 1997

Last modified on Wednesday, 05 May 2010 15:14
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