CARSON CITY (AP) — The Nevada Department of Wildlife and a nine-member commission that sets wildlife policy is unfairly stacked with hunters who ignore public opinion and should be restructured, critics charged Tuesday.
They urged a state panel to consolidate NDOW into the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, or restructure the agency’s governance to give “non-consumptive” animal lovers greater say on wildlife issues
“Our wildlife is a treasure,” said Trish Swain, director of TrailSafe Nevada. “Today’s tourist wants their wildlife alive.”
No action was taken Tuesday by the Legislative Commission’s Sunset Subcommittee, which will consider the consolidation proposal during a work session at a later date.
Wildlife Director Ken Mayer told the panel that federal money, along with fees paid by sportsmen, fund most of the agency’s budget. He added that many sportsmen’s groups pony up money for conservation efforts and to help pay for non-budgeted items as the needs arise.
But some lawmakers said that doesn’t mean hunters should dictate wildlife management.
“We all know how passionate hunters are in the state,” said Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, chairwoman of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.
Carlton said it’s a “cultural problem” that hunters and trappers feel the agency’s job is to protect their interests.
“Your commission and your department do not belong to them,” she said. “You’re there for the whole state.”
Critics point to outcry over Nevada’s black bear hunt and reluctance by the commission to adopt urban trapping regulations until lawmakers intervened last year as evidence the public’s concerns are ignored.
“The general public has many concerns outside hunting,” said Christine Schwamberger, a lawyer who represents NoBearHuntNV, a group that fought unsuccessfully to block black bear hunting in Nevada. Fourteen bears were killed in the state’s inaugural season last year. This year’s season is scheduled to run Sept. 15-Dec. 31.
“NDOW and the commission are outdated, archaic and unresponsive to the public,” she said, adding that decades ago wildlife was considered a “consumptive resource” to be killed.
The system, she said, “was set up by and for hunters,” and has no regard for others who value wildlife as a living resource to be enjoyed by all.
NDOW was consolidated as a division under the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources once before, in 1995. It became its own department again in 2003.
Kyle Davis with the Nevada Conservation League said the Wildlife Commission plays an important role because it allows public involvement. Abolishing it, he said, would leave management decisions to the department and limit public input.