by Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
Nevada’s urban and rural cultures clashed in Carson City Wednesday over a legislative attempt to end contests that promote the killing of coyotes and other animals in exchange for cash and prizes. Proponents insist the contests are necessary to keep a lid on predators that would threaten Nevada’s big game species such as deer and elk, and tamp down the economic benefits of hunting.
Assembly Bill 102 “pits urbans against rurals simply because of a different way of life. We realize we as sportsmen are a minority,” testified Larry Johnson of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife, noting there are “only 152,000 license holders (licenses, tags, permits and stamps) in the state of Nevada. This bill is just part of a national campaign by animal rights groups to chip away at our rural culture, our outdoor way of life.”
Another measure heard Wednesday by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Assembly Bill 70, would allow sportsmen to designate a $3 tag fee to either predator control or habitat restoration. Current law requires 80% of the roughly $900,000 generated a year to be used to kill mountain lions and coyotes, both predators of big game animals and livestock.
“I’ve watched my state turn into something that’s hard to recognize because of the growth,” testified Thomas Dentz of Pahrump in opposition to the measure.
“These guys have no recognition that they are talking about public property when demanding the killing of coyotes and mountain lions,” says Dr. Donald Molde, president of the Nevada Wildlife Alliance. “If we had wolves and grizzly bears in Nevada, they would be demanding their destruction with equal vigor.”
Once the bastion of ranchers, hunters, and indoor sportsmen largely oblivious to their surroundings, Nevada is now home to an invasive species with little tolerance for what some call the wanton slaughter of wildlife.
A privately commissioned survey of 675 Nevada voters conducted by Public Policy Polling in late February found 78% said “the lives of individual animals have inherent worth and are deserving of protection and conservation,” while 12% said they “think wildlife is a natural resource that should primarily be used to benefit humans without regard to the worth or value of animals.” Ten percent were undecided.
Recent polling shows that 66% of Nevadans oppose wildlife killing contests, while only 19% support them.
Clark County and the City of Reno have joined five western states in outlawing animal killing contests, but after a year-long effort to impose regulations, the Nevada Wildlife Commission voted 5-4 against a proposal in 2021.
Assemblyman Howard Watts, a hunter and sponsor of AB 70 and AB 120, testified the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation disapproves of “frivolous killing” and he noted killing contests, which use recorded audio of animal cries to draw coyotes out into the open, are void of the ethics of fair chase and harvesting for a purpose.
AB 102 prohibits a person from “…organizing, sponsoring, promoting, conductIng or participatIng in any contest, tournament, Derby or any other type of competition that includes the taking of a covered animal for prizes or any other form of inducement.”
Covered animals are beavers, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, minks, muskrats, otters, rabbits, skunks or weasels.
“It’s a difficult conversation. It’s not meant to spur regional divide,” Watts said. “I’ve heard from folks all over the state and urban and rural areas on both sides of this issue.”
Eight states have banned or restricted killing contests, including Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Washington. Five more states, including Oregon and Nevada, are considering legislation. A federal measure banning killing contests on public lands has been introduced in Congress.
“This bill attacks the culture of Nevada,” testified Ashton Caseli of the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife. “Emotion-based politics is a slippery slope…”
Caselli also took aim at Assembly Bill 70, suggesting the state is attempting to end not only unofficial predator control efforts, but state-sponsored measures paid for by the $3 tag fee, as well.
“This ‘war on predators’ is not limited to Nevada,” says Molde, calling the practice of culling some species to boost big game populations “perhaps the key polarizing issue that is drawing attention from a concerned public which values all wildlife, not just deer, elk, pronghorn and bighorn.”
“This bill is not about predator management,” Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity testified on the killing contest measure, citing former Dept. of Wildlife director Tony Wasley, who said in 2021 the contests have no effect on wildlife populations. “It’s about the evolution of our universal moral code as to how we interact with wildlife.”
George Forbush, a coyote hunter, complained penalties of $5,000 to $30,000 envisioned by the bill are the same as those imposed on poachers.
“Big game animals are specifically managed by NDOW where they require a license tag and a season. Coyotes are typically managed only as part of predator control programs where they’re killed in mass numbers and then discarded,” he said. “Simply put, big game animals have a higher value to the residents of Nevada and therefore require a higher degree of protection than coyotes.”
The Humane Society of the United States says members attended two Nevada coyote killing contests in January where participants killed some 60 coyotes at each event.
Neil Teeny of the Nevada Trappers Association noted the “massive amounts” spent by the state on predator control and said killing contests are cost-effective and efficient. “It simply makes sense to get the work done for free.”
This story was written by Dana Gentry, a reporter at the Nevada Current, where this story first appeared.
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