16 Feb 2008, 10:09am
Deer, Elk, Bison
by admin

The Truth About Predators and Nevada Deer

by Mike Laughlin of Hunter’s Alert [here]

Note: the essay is in rebuttal to an article which appeared in the Reno Gazette Journal [see here]

I read with interest the article in the Reno Gazette Journal, January 25, 2008, concerning Nevada’s declining deer population.

I do not know whom the NDOW expert, Biologist Mike Cox is, but he is a long way from knowing or telling the “real story” of what went on during the big deer years in Nevada. If he thinks that the main reason for the decline of Nevada deer herds is the overall condition of habitat, he either does not know what he is talking about or he is creating “smoke and mirrors” for NDOW.

I ran the operational Predatory Animal Control program throughout the State of Nevada for the U. S Fish & Wildlife Program, during the 1970s and 80s, as the Assistant State Supervisor. I believe I have on-the-ground and in-the-air understanding of what went on during the big deer years in Nevada. There were three full-time Government Mountain Lion Hunters employed year-around hunting lions. Coyote and mountain lion numbers were kept under control. Deer tags, for Nevada hunters, were unlimited in number and were available for over-the-counter purchase at hunting-license dealers statewide.

In 1972, a big change occurred in the Animal Damage Control business throughout the west. President Richard Nixon banned the use of toxicants in the government control program by executive order (he was soliciting the environmental vote that was just starting to emerge). With the loss of toxicants and nothing to replace it with but a few trappers, coyote numbers began to rise dramatically. Throughout the state of Nevada, deer numbers fell to 96,000 by 1976. Predation upon livestock by predators was a serious problem. In the late 70s, political pressure by the livestock industry and their representatives in Washington, D.C. brought about a dramatic increase in the Federal budget for Animal Damage Control.

The federal government began to appropriate large sums of money in order to prove that coyote numbers could be controlled by what they liked to call “non-toxic methods.” This program increased use of aircraft, both fixed -wing and rotor-wing, to shoot coyotes from the air and additional trappers on the ground to replace the controversial use of toxicants (this was meant to look good to the environmentalists).

At that time, there was a large, domestic range-sheep industry, operating throughout the state of Nevada. Domestic sheep acted as a “buffer species” to deer for predatory animals. Predators, largely, lived on domestic sheep, which were much easier to kill than mule deer. The Ruby Mountains, in Elko County for example, had over 50,000 domestic sheep that summered on this mountain range in the 1970s.

In the early 1980s, wild-animal longhair fur prices went sky high and private trappers were out in force. There were large numbers of coyotes and bobcats harvested by private trappers since fur prices were at an all time high. Gas was around $1.25 a gallon. Coyote varmint callers were out in force. All of the private trapping and shooting plus the concentrated government effort to control predator numbers began to pay off. By the year 1988, the mule deer population responded to these concentrated predator-control efforts and mule deer numbers statewide were quoted by NDOW at 240,000. NDOW was busy patting themselves on the back for what a masterful deer management program they had in place throughout the state of Nevada. They credited the quota system for deer tags, which was put in place in 1976, and favorable weather conditions, relatively mild winters during that period, for the large increase in deer numbers, but never once did they mention the dramatic decrease in predator population numbers brought about by private hunters and trappers and the federal government program.

Now then we move forward in time, the range sheep industry began to disappear due to labor problems, government regulations, land use changes by public land administrators, imports, etc. Therefore, control efforts in and around range sheep herds decreased. Cattle numbers began to decline. Longhair fur prices fell, gas prices went up, vehicle prices went up, predator hunting declined, and soon predator population numbers began to come back. Today the Nevada landscape is filled up with coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions with some prowling the alleys of towns and cities. Predators have a “free-roll” statewide.

So what do you think has happened to our deer population? It has steadily gone down-hill with the decrease in predator control efforts and will continue to do so unless there is a dramatic decrease in predatory animal population numbers. NDOW has blamed the mule deer decline on overgrazing by livestock, poor habitat, too many fires, too cold, too wet, too dry, not enough snow, too much snow, etc. They are in denial when it comes to the overall effect that predators have on our mule deer and upland game bird population numbers in the State of Nevada.

In 2007, NDOW reported, there were 114,000 mule deer in the State of Nevada. Looks to me like we are almost out of deer. I wonder, what are the coyote, bobcat, and mountain lion numbers statewide in 2008???

Note: James “Mike” Laughlin is a Supervisory Wildlife Biologist (Retired) and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Wildlife Biology from Arizona State University.

16 Feb 2008, 10:13am
by Mike

The nub of the issue is this idiotic notion that HABITAT controls animal populations. That’s wrong. The scientific truth is that PREDATOR-PREY relations govern the rise and fall of almost all wildlife populations.

The gummit set aside 25,000,000 acres for the spotted owl in 1994, yet spotted owls have continued to disappear. Owl populations have fallen 60% since the set-aside in 1994. It’s not because the owls can’t find anywhere to nest, or that there is a lack of rodents to eat. It’s because they are being predated. Goshawks, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and other raptors are munching down on spotted owls.

The habitat plays a role; it’s the stage on which predator-prey relations occur. Owls seek habitat with overhead cover (and favorable three-dimensional porosity) where they can hide from their predators.

But it’s the predators that rule the roost and govern the numbers.

Deer are not eating every leaf in Nevada and then falling over dead from starvation. That’s ludicrous. Everything the NDOW “experts” were quoted as saying is absurd.

Even though Nevada has experienced horrendous megafires in recent years, and humanitarian mercy hunts of antelope, sheep, and deer following those fires, the long term trends are set by predators. Ungulates will rebound from the fires, but not if the fawns are eaten by coyotes, cougars, wolves, etc.

16 Feb 2008, 10:44am
by Mike

I might add, this exact same habitat BS is spewed at every single meeting and in every single publication of the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Game.

ODFW believes that if the gummit commandeers all the private property in the state, that will be “good” for wildlife. Throw out the humans and then the bugs and bunnies will be happy.

Karl Marx is the only one that will be pleased when that happens. The wildlife will not care.

Wildlife like people. They do not see any difference between themselves and people. To wildlife, we are all animals. It is human hubris and conceit to think we are somehow apart from the Animal Kingdom.

It’s NOT the habitat. It’s the predators.

ODFW wants to ram oppressive regulations down on landowners to “save” the salmon. At the same time, they license a huge salmon-killing industry.

Banning forestry and planting brush along streams will not save one single fish, whereas banning the for-profit slaughter will save millions of salmon. Or (here’s a stroke of genius) reducing the sea lion population would have a (stunning) positive effect on the salmon population.

It’s all about PREDATOR-PREY relations. The habitat card is commie BS propaganda.

16 Feb 2008, 12:00pm
by Bud Sonnentag

It is a great honor to know Mike Dubrasich. He ranks right up there with great men like the late Dr Lester McCann. Hunters Alert is proud to be able to publish our works on such a reputable web site as Mr Dubrasich produces for the world to come to for facts and truth. Hunters Alert encourages the world to stay tuned to his web sites. Hunters Alert wishes W.I.S.E. the best and looks forward to cementing a solid bond of friendship in the future that we together may deal a fatal blow to all corrupt wildlife agencies at both state and federal levels.

16 Feb 2008, 1:42pm
by Mike

Thank you for the kudos, Mr. Sonnetag, but I hardly rank with the best wildlife ecologists (tops in my opinion is Dr. Charles Kay of Utah State).

We are attempting to post the best works in the environmental sciences at W.I.S.E. With your help and that of others, we are building a library for all to use.

The wildlife agencies are not so much corrupt as off-track. The folks in the ranks mean well. It’s hard when the leadership has a partisan political agenda, however. And when the colleges teach crap, then crap is all the newbie wye-byes know.

Human beings have been the keystone predators on this continent ever since the Clovis People. We control the population dynamics of every other species, whether we want to admit it or not.

Stewardship requires that we assume the responsibilities we inherited. Abandoning our responsibilities to a mythical goddess of Nature is a false notion; it is impossible. We need to stand up and do what we do with insight, experience, and heart. The buck stops here. We have no other choice.

17 Feb 2008, 10:04am
by Bud Sonnentag

Mike, in response to #4 above: I whole heartedly agree and understand well your assessment on wildlife agencies being off track; however my personal opinion of them being corrupt is founded on this premise. If I am morally required to print the truth and the facts to the world at all times and my opponents are not under this obligation but they can willfully print fallacies and deliberate factual distortions then I judge them to be CORRUPT!

Dr Charles Kay is good friend of mine and along with his associate, Dr Val Geist, they make up an unbeatable professional team that we all need to help arm wrestle our adversaries to the table. I apologize for mistaking your pedigree as a doctor but never-the-less you deserve it Mike. May I be a humble servant to all of you dedicated professionals. Without you guys, we can hardly accomplish much.

17 Feb 2008, 10:41am
by Mike

Corruption in public service generally means the taking of bribes. It’s a serious charge and should only be made with proof in hand. It’s a legal thing. Casting legal bricks can get you in trouble.

Moral bankruptcy, stunning ignorance, and barking incompetence, on the other hand, are not criminal offenses, and can be laid like bricks where they fit.

17 Feb 2008, 11:03pm
by Gregory S.

I say bring back the 10/80. Start poisoning the predators. Make the cougar a predator and put a $2,000 bounty on it, and get rid of the wolf as well.

Make all Gov. agencies, including the USFS be self-funded, meaning they have to sell and mark timber, sell cattle allotments to ranchers, to make enough money to keep their doors opened. If this was to happen, our country would change back the way it use to be.

You would see the gov agencies, the USFS, all the game depts. out shooting spotted owls for breakfast omelets, and the wolf would be shot and fed to all the workers. These Gov. Agencies would have a different way of looking at life when their paycheck wasn’t there on the 1st and the 15th every month, and their retirement was used to put fuel in their trucks. You would see auctions at all these gov agencies selling the vehicle’s that they don’t need. Our local USFS is overwhelming with all the employees drawing a paycheck to sell a few firewood permits every year, when they should be paying the wood cutter to clean our forest. What happened in the late 70s to the signs along the highway’s that would say (protect your national forest)? LOL are all gone because its not our forest anymore.

Bottom line is, when are the American People going to stand up and say we have had enough? What is it going to take? How many more years can these groups keep taking away? Will it be like a stop sign at a major intersection that needs a stop light, and the only way they can put the stop light in is after a number of human deaths at that intersection. When human life is lost due to the fact of whatever things seem to change.

As you can tell by now I don’t like what has happened to our country by no means.

17 Feb 2008, 11:04pm
by Gregory S.

Why do our comments have to wait moderation anyway. I thought this was a free country and freedom of speech. Am I missing something?

18 Feb 2008, 12:39am
by admin


All comments have to be moderated to weed out the spam. And sometimes to clean them up a little, correct the spelling, etc. And since the console isn’t manned 24 hours a day continuously, sometimes a commenter might have to wait awhile before we get to it.

The country may be free, but this site belongs to the Western Institute for Study of the Environment. Nothing gets posted without approval of the administration.

Speech is also free, in the public square, but not here. We decide what’s gets posted on our site and what does not. We are generous to a certain point. Opposing viewpoints are welcome, as are comments in agreement. We especially like comments that teach us something we don’t already know. But this ain’t no wall to paint graffiti on.

18 Feb 2008, 9:24pm
by Gregory S.

admin… Who is Western Institute ?

What kind of Environment study are you trying to accomplish from everyone’s comments?

18 Feb 2008, 9:37pm
by Mike Dubrasich, Ex Dir W.I.S.E.


Try clicking on the tabs in the tab bar and the links in the left-hand sidebar. Read the info provided. All your questions will be answered.

One thing that should be clear: we are not from or with the government. Nor are we affiliated with any BINGO’s. Nor do we get grants from any foundations.

Just folks at our computers with a few hundred axes to grind, possibly not unlike yourself.

1 Dec 2008, 2:46pm
by Andy N.

So is the message you’re trying to get across, do-away with hunting wildlife, or permit more hunting of preditors, because I’d prefer to hunt more preditors, to increase our wildlife if that’s okay with you.

1 Dec 2008, 4:07pm
by Mike

My message is more complex than that. Boiled down, it includes the following:

1. Wildlife population changes, by and large, are governed by predator-prey relationships. Habitat is an undefined, non-specific, vague, general sort of concept, much like “ecosystems”. Habitat is not the critical factor for wildlife that many people think it is. Nor is climate, which is a part of habitat. No, the main determinant of population dynamics is predator-prey interactions.

2. Human beings have been the keystone predator in North America for 13,000+ years. Human beings have thus been the principal factors in wildlife population change, whether that has meant extinction or irruption, of almost all animal species. Sometimes the human impact has been direct, sometimes indirect, but at the core human beings have played the commanding role for millennia.

3. There is no such thing as the “balance of nature”. There is no “correct” or “natural” population count for any species. Removing human beings from the “habitat” will not lead to balance. It is far too late for that, and in any case the mythical “balance” does not exist.

4. Therefore, human beings must continue to play the commanding role. Like it or not, we determine the rise or fall of almost every wildlife species population. The choices are ours, and we cannot refrain from making those choices. There are no “inactions.” We cannot remove ourselves.

5. Ideally then, we should choose good stewardship, where stewardship is defined as protecting the capacity of the land (and water) to produce the array of species we desire. Good stewardship demands that we exercise our role as keystone predators and caretakers of nature by controlling all wildlife populations, including predators and prey, to preserve an optimal abundance of all species.

That means predator (wolf, bear, cougar, coyote, etc.) control, not predator extirpation or forced irruption. It also means prey control, to prevent extirpation and/or irruptions of prey (deer, elk, moose, bison, salmon, etc.). It means human hunting with a dual purpose: to manage populations and to utilize the hunted animals.

And we also have a duty and responsibility to be good stewards of livestock and other domestic animals. We also must be good stewards of our own human culture and civilization, meaning providing ample sustenance, rights, and freedoms for people.

And we have the duty and responsibility to manage the vegetation, which produces food, fiber, “habitat”, water, air, recreation, and a myriad of other resources we depend on.

So wildlife management is a complex undertaking that is not separate from our larger duties and responsibilities as caretakers of nature and of ourselves.

That complexity means that simple answers, such as bans on hunting or allowing predator (or prey) populations to grow unchecked, are always wrong, always have unintended consequences, and always lead to poor stewardship.

That’s my message, in a nut shell. What we are attempting to do at W.I.S.E. is to provide the best, most recent, most insightful environmental science so that the complexity of good stewardship becomes a little clearer and more understandable to the lay public. And that’s a complex undertaking, too, given the noise of politics, emotion, and poor quality science that inundates our culture today.

7 Apr 2009, 11:25am
by Scott

MIKE, there is so much common sense in what you wrote (following: My message is more complex than that.) that I am almost without anything to add. Thank you for what you write, spread it as far and as wide as you can. I have been doing the same.



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