Wildlife Commission votes to consider ban on killing contests   

Bear hounding upheld

By: - March 21, 2021 6:58 am
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It’s about “core values,” said Nevada Wildlife Commissioner John Almberg. (Photo by Joshua Wilking on Unsplash)

At the end of the two-day hearing on measures that pitted Nevada’s urban interests against rural, the state Wildlife Commission voted five to four to take up a proposal to ban wildlife killing contests at a later date — likely this summer.

Commissioner Kerstan Hubbs of Las Vegas, who represents the public on the commission,  called the contests a “blight” on the hunting community and likened participants to a “rogue family member,” referring to how it feels “when a friend pulls up with 50 coyotes” in the back of their truck.

Hunters took exception to the comparison and repeatedly insisted that banning killing contests is the first step to an erosion of their right to hunt.

Chris Garnet said the word ‘killing’ was being used “to push the agenda,” and said there’s “no evidence or proof of public endangerment” from the contests.

“The thing we fear the most is the loss of privileges we take for granted,” said Commissioner David McNinch, acknowledging sportsmens’ concern over the ban he proposed. He eventually agreed not to refer to the events as ‘killing contests.’

“Don’t sugarcoat reality,” animal activist Fred Voltz said of the euphemistic alternative ‘calling contests.’

Voltz advocated the state spend resources on educating the public on co-existence — safe interaction with coyotes, protecting pets, and securing garbage.

“If Clark County would like to have an ordinance, that’s fine, but let’s not push that on to 16 other counties,” said Jim Cooney of the Elko Community Advisory Board, adding the contests provide revenue to the town in the form of “gas, rooms, restrooms and the likes.”

Biological necessity?

Department of Wildlife Director Tony Wasley said it’s an oversimplification that removing predators from the landscape “automatically results in more prey.”

“We’re so far removed from natural equilibrium that talking about disruption has no value,” he said.  “We build golf courses. We pump water and we build these little small prey oases.”

When the golf course runs out of food for coyotes, “the next step is the neighborhoods,” he said.

Animal activist Dr. Don Molde cited NDOW’s failed efforts to cull the coyote population near Caliente in a campaign to benefit deer.

Molde says NDOW spent $4.5 million to kill 10,000 coyotes, “lost 35,000 deer,” and has “more coyotes than they started with.”

Dr. Michelle Lute, a biologist who worked to ban wildlife killing contests in New Mexico, told commissioners the events “beget chaos across the landscape.”

She said contests “take out adults” before they can teach their young to properly hunt, forcing the pups to resort to easy prey, such as pets.

Coyotes rely on rodents and rabbits “more than deer,” she said and perform important rodent control.

In the end, the commission split with Chairwoman Tiffany East, commissioners Tommy Caviglia, Kerstan Hubbs, David McNinch, and Jon Ainberg voting in favor of potential rulemaking in the future.

Ron Pierini, Tom Barnes, Casey Kiel and Shane Rogers voted against the motion.

The commission is statutorily comprised of nine members, five of whom represent hunting and ranching interests.

“I’ll probably hear about it,” said Commissioner Tommy Caviglia of Henderson, who represents sportsmen, anticipating a backlash against his vote. “I would entertain looking at it.”

“You can continue calling it a killing contest. That’s the goal,” Commissioner Casey Kiel told his colleague McNinch, adding he was not willing to move forward with a ban.

“The urban/rural-rest-of-the-state divide was apparent in the comments.” says Jeff Dixon, state director or the Humane Society of the United States.  He says commissioners may have been swayed by McNinch’s contention that “if they don’t do this, a petition will come. They don’t want to have this conversation over and over again.”

Dixon says his side, “people who don’t subscribe to the idea that wildlife exists for our benefit, have the plurality of the population and it’s growing.  People will start looking at the commission composition, how it’s stacked in favor of sportsmen and ranching, and say ‘let’s make this more representative,” and put other viewpoints on the commission.

“They also have the possibility for legislative action,” says Dixon. “Maybe they’d rather the Legislature do these things so they don’t have to face their communities and admit they did something good for the ‘antis’ as they call us.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” says Dixon of what he calls incremental gains for animal activists. “Progress in movements comes very slowly.  In the last couple years interesting things have been happening.  People in the west are realizing these coyote killing contests are just not worth the trouble.”

“These barbaric spectacles are out of step with the moral sensibilities of modern society and most Nevadans, and have harmful ecological effects on local populations,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This bloodsport needs to be banned from our state for good.”

Hounding upheld

Progress eluded animals activists Friday when the commission voted down a petition to ban hounds from bear hunting.

“People are horrified that we kill bears in this state. They don’t know we do it,” said Commissioner Kerstan Hubbs. “It is the lack of widespread knowledge by the public regarding the activities this commission has condoned in the past that protects the status quo.”

Hubbs and McNinch, who represents conservation interests, were the only two commissioners to vote in favor of banning bear hounding.

Hunters contend using hounds to chase a bear up a tree allows them to determine size and gender of bears before shooting or moving on, in the case of a young female.  But data compiled by the state indicates female bears hounded before being killed were 5.8 years old, while sows killed by other methods were 7.8 years old.

McNinch questions whether hounding is producing the intended results.

“What if hounding doesn’t help with selectivity?” he asked.  “We’ve been hitting some heavy harvest on the female take. We are pushing the boundaries on an annual basis. These are things that are starting to concern me.”

“This petition is emotionally driven and has no scientific support to back their claims,” said Jason Graham of the Nevada Sporting Dog Alliance

“This isn’t about hunting with dogs. It’s about the culture of hunting, period,” said Joel Blakeslee, director of the Nevada Trappers Association.

“It spoke to me when 87 percent of the people were against hound hunting,” Hubbs said during Friday’s hearing of an attitude survey conducted by NDOW.   “I think the whole idea of the bear hunt is what upsets them so adding the tool of the dog upsets them as well.  I don’t support the bear hunt in general or hounding, moreover.”

Cathy Smith, who presented the hounding ban to the commission, addressed criticism that arguments against hounding are emotional.

“There is no reason to use them (hounds) except emotion, or you want to do it,” she said, noting the data indicating using hounds does not result in young female bears being spared, as hound hunters argue. “This is an emotional argument on both sides.”

“I would hate to limit tools that we have now.  We can do that down the road if we need to,” said East.

“If you’re using dogs, please don’t give anyone an opportunity to post a video like that with dogs mauling a bear,” Hubbs cautioned bear hunters regarding a video shown to the commission last year. “Don’t get in a situation where you’re being videotaped doing something horrendous.”

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.

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