Nevada’s Board of Wildlife Commissioners was purposely designed to protect the entrenched interests of people who photograph animals. By promoting policies designed solely to increase opportunities for hunters, they have perpetuated an unjust system that benefits a small number of Nevadans.
Through statute, the commission is charged with “establishing comprehensive policies for the protection, reproduction, restoration, transplantation, release, and management of wildlife in this state.” It also oversees the Nevada Department of Wildlife, which enforces this policy. Conservation managers and biologists from the department can make recommendations, but the committee has ultimate responsibility for wildlife management in the state.
Two recent debacles have clearly illustrated how broken and out of touch with Nevadans the committee is.
be first coyote killing contests, barbaric rituals in which participants try to win prizes by slaughtering the most coyotes in a day. These competitions, which are banned in other states, are not popular with the public and do not conform to the prevailing moral code of society. Nevertheless, the committee doubted about the issue for months failed to implement a policy to ban the blood sport. At its November meeting, the committee will apparently vote on possible language for a ban on coyote-killing competitions. The legitimacy of the commission is at stake.
Second, the state’s trophy is the black bear hunt. Animal protection requested that the Department of Wildlife or Commission is suspending bear hunts in areas affected by recent catastrophic wildfires in the Sierra Nevada. Black bears, who recently ran for their lives in front of climate-change-fuelled flames, are now facing hunters who laugh at hunting dogs with GPS collars and shoot them from trees.
Rather than stop this reprehensible hunt, the department instead doubled down and said these poor fire-ridden bears should be killed for their own good. It’s disgusting, and the committee stood still.
The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners has: rigid categories making it institutionally biased towards hunting and killing animals. Under state law, five members of the commission must have held a hunting or fishing license for three of the last four years. In addition, two commissioners are assigned to agriculture – one for livestock, one for agriculture. There is one place for someone who represents conservation, and another for a member of the general public.
So from this nine-member board, seven people represent interests whose primary interaction with wildlife is to kill it.
There are also geographic requirements that are vastly out of step with the population of the state. Up to 33 percent of the commission may be from Clark County, which is home to 75 percent of the state population. Washoe County gets 22 percent, despite 14 percent of the population. And rural counties, which make up about 12 percent of the state’s population, get a whopping 45 percent of the seats.
This has led to some completely predictable demographic outcomes. If you tune in to a Zoom committee meeting, you’ll see a lot of white male faces. The commission is nothing like Nevada’s broad racial, ethnic, and gender diversity.
The department also has questionable policies to serve hunters. Huge amounts of pinyon juniper forests have been cleared specifically to create a habitat for mule deer, the state’s most popular game animal. Alien fish have been introduced in many places, sometimes putting native fish in danger of extinction. The greater grouse, an animal of great conservation concern, is still hunted in this state, even though it teeters on the edge of the endangered species list. These activities are carried out on behalf of the committee.
If the commission were more like Nevada, it would make decisions that benefit more than a small group of Nevadans hunting. This does not mean that hunting is not allowed. But hunting should not be the driving force behind conservation in this state.
One option is to reform the committee by changing the parameters that govern its membership. There should be more representatives from the state’s most populous province. There may only be one agricultural seat. At least one seat must be assigned to a representative of the Native American tribes in Nevada. And systems must be put in place to ensure fairness and representation on the committee. The commission should look like Nevada.
There is another intriguing option: do we need a commission at all? The Department of Wildlife is filled with competent wildlife managers, many of them scientists. If freed from the current commission’s strict pro-hunting restrictions, would the department be able to make decisions based on the welfare and health of wildlife populations?
Minnesota is a state where there is no commission. There, the Department of Natural Resources reports directly to the governor. And there is evidence of improved outcomes for wildlife. For example Minnesota against the trend of horrific wolf hunts this year, while other states with wolf populations declared open season. Can we do the same and abolish the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners?
Wildlife activists will weigh these options in the coming months as we head to the next legislative session.
Meanwhile, the committee must make a decision in November. Will they reflect our society’s common moral sensibilities and ban coyote-killing competitions? Or will they continue to represent a small minority of Nevadans who find competitive blood sports acceptable? It is a test of the legitimacy of this commission, and it is unclear whether they will pass.
Patrick Donnelly is the state director at the Center for Biological Diversity†