Views at Red Rock Canyon Recreation area, just west of Las Vegas, Nevada.
 

MOUNTAIN LIONS IN THE STATE OF NEVADA

Nevada still uses the Comprehensive Mountain Lion Management Plan written in 1995. Decisions regarding mountain lions in Nevada appear to be increasingly dictated by politics rather than sound science. Nevada's mountain lion hunting quota remains high: 302 lions in the 2010-11 season. On December 5, 2009 the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commission (NBWC) approved three projects sought by private sportsmen groups to kill mountain lions as predators of favored game species mule deer and sage grouse. This approval was made despite arguments against the plan presented by the Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

SUMMARY: Mountain Lions in the State of Nevada




Mountain Lion Habitat and Population in Nevada

The state of Nevada encompasses 109,826 miles of land. Of this the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) estimates that approximately 50,000 square miles, roughly 45 percent of the state, is suitable mountain lion habitat. Using a 1982 Gap Habitat Analysis map to ascertain the amount and location of mountain lion habitat in each of Nevada's 29 Game Management Units (GMUs), MLF researchers estimate that there is closer to 55,891 square miles of suitable mountain lion habitat in the state.

Nevada's mountain lion habitat is distributed throughout all the mountain ranges in the state. According to NDOW, "The mountain lion's habitat ranges from desert, chaparral and badlands to sub-alpine mountain and tropical rain forests. In Nevada, mountain lions are most likely found in areas of pinion pine, juniper, mountain mahogany, ponderosa pine and mountain brush."

NDOW believes that overall, mountain lion population in Nevada is stable. Yet, it also acknowledges that "The increasing human population in Nevada has caused mountain lions to retreat to more isolated and rugged terrain. This human encroachment has also caused more human interactions with these otherwise secretive animals."

NDOW has put forth several estimates on the number of mountain lions residing in the state. Based on modeling that considers past mortality trends and recruitment rates from mark-recapture studies, NDOW's 2008 status report estimates somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 mountain lions statewide. This number is considerably lower than their 2003 estimate of 3,000 to 4,000 mountain lions, and is disputed further by a 2004 article in the Reno Gazette Journal which cites a NDOW population estimate of only 1,500 mountain lions.

Nevada's History of Mountain Lion Management

Unlike most western states, Nevada never placed a statewide bounty on mountain lions. They were considered unprotected predators until their classification as game animals in 1965.

In 1972 a ten-year mountain lion study was initiated to establish mountain lion population estimates, discern basic habitat requirements, and establish a sport hunting management program. Since its publication in 1983, the findings of this study have formed the foundation for most mountain lion management practices in Nevada.

Since the later half of the 1990s, Nevada's mountain lion hunting strategies have become increasingly more liberalized to simplify and increase hunter involvement. To achieve this goal:

  • bag limits continue to be increased;
  • hunting fees have been reduced;
  • the hunting season has expanded to year-round (March-February); and
  • mountain lion hunting tags and hunting zone requests are now available on-line.

In March 2007 Assemblyman Clayborn submitted AB 259 to the Committee on Natural Resources. If passed this bill would have reclassified mountain lions in Nevada as "unprotected mammal," thereby making it legal for anyone to kill a lion at any time without needing a license. The bill would also have allowed aerial hunting from airplanes or helicopters and the use of spring guns, set guns or other devices for the destruction of a mountain lion. Finally, the bill also called for renaming NDOW the Nevada Department of Fish and Game thereby proudly declaring exactly who the Department really worked for. Fortunately the bill failed. Strangely, the primary reasons for its defeat may have been that it would cost too much to change NDOW's name and because many hunters feared a reduction in available trophy animals.

Nevada still uses the Comprehensive Mountain Lion Management Plan written in 1995. In that plan, the Nevada Department of Wildlife stated that its goals and objectives are to:

  • maintain mountain lion distribution in reasonable densities throughout the state;
  • control mountain lions creating a public safety hazard or causing property damage;
  • provide recreational, educational and scientific use opportunities of the mountain lion resource;
  • maintain a balance between mountain lions and their prey; and
  • manage mountain lions as a meta-population.

While the above wildlife management plan sounds balanced and fair, it is riddled with qualifiers and ultimately depends upon how one defines "reasonable densities," "control," "recreational opportunities," and "maintain a balance" to properly evaluate its merits. As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, and in Nevada's case, the proof is in the lack of a current mountain lion management plan beyond annual hunting quotas and predator culling goals for specific game management areas.

A review of available documents found:

  • There is no mention of mountain lions in the NDOW Comprehensive Strategic Plan 2004-2009 (the all-encompassing document that addresses how NDOW will protect the natural resources under their jurisdiction).
  • Mountain lions are barely acknowledged as even existing within the 629 pages of the 2006 Nevada Wildlife Action Plan.
  • The 1995 Cougar Management Plan was still referred to as the State's standard plan in a 2008 Mountain Lion Status Report.
  • The only "plans" which reference mountain lions at all are the Nevada Predation Management Plan, and the NDOW's Regional Hunting Quota List.

Human Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Nevada

Since 1917 (the first year records are available) an estimated 7,219 mountain lions have been killed by humans in Nevada, with 76 percent of these deaths occurring after 1965 when mountain lions were classified as game animals.

This figure does not include:

  • lion deaths from road accidents
  • secondary poisoning
  • kittens or injured adults euthanized by NDOW
  • death by unknown causes
  • poaching
  • the "shoot-shovel-and-shut up" practices espoused by some ranchers

Nevada's Killing Fields

Based on a lion-mortality density model developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation, Nevada averages 0.35 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. The eleven western state average is 0.65. Using MLF's mortality ranking system, Nevada ranks 10th (11th is least deadly) amongst the 11 states studied by MLF in reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

Hunting Mountain Lions in Nevada

Nevada's Mountain Lion Hunting Season runs from March 1, through February 28. Nevada's 29 Game Management Units (GMUs) are combined into three hunting regions. Hunting quotas are established for each of these regions rather than for individual GMUs. When the harvest objective has been met for a given hunting region, the lion season is closed in that region. With this policy it is possible that some Game Management Units might experience greater lion mortality than others within the same hunting region.

Nevada's 2010-11 Lion Season Quotas

  • Western Region 103 mountain lions.
  • Eastern Region 139 mountain lions.
  • Southern Region 60 mountain lions
  • Total Allowed Kills 302 mountain lions

In 2003, Nevada provided a gender breakdown of its mountain lion harvests for the years 1998 through 2001. During this 4-year period 41 percent (282) of the total human-caused mountain lion mortalities were female cougars.

According to MLF's 11 western state study of human-caused mountain lion mortalities (1992-2001) the Nevada Game Management Units (GMUs) most responsible for mountain lion deaths were numbers 12, 11, 5, 6, and 2. From 1997 to 2001, these GMUs accounted for 285 human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

During this time period these GMUs were responsible for 29 percent of human-caused mountain lion mortalities while encompassing only 11 percent of Nevada's mountain lion habitat. GMU-12 was ranked as Nevada's number one killing field during the study period with an average mortality density rating of 1.5.

Map of Nevada's Cougar Management Units

Politics and Mountain Lion/Predator Control Directives in Nevada

Decisions regarding mountain lions in Nevada appear to be increasingly dictated by politics rather than sound science. Greg Tanner, a wildlife biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, is quoted in an April 12, 2004 High Country News article as saying that "Game commissions make decisions based on what they hear from their sportsmen constituents."

This opinion of political manipulation of the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commission (NBWC) by hunting groups was reinforced on December 5, 2009 when the NBWC approved three projects sought by private sportsmen groups to kill the predators of mule deer and sage grouse — specifically mountain lions. This approval was made despite arguments against the plan presented by the Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

In a March 9, 2010, Reno Gazette Journal news article Tony Wasley, a NDOW mule deer specialist, stated that controlling predators won't stop the disappearance of the sagebrush-covered terrain that deer depend on in Nevada and much of the West. "We're talking about a landscape-scale phenomenon here," Wasley said. "The [Nevada deer] population is limited by habitat. Where there is insufficient habitat, all the predator control in the world won't result in any benefit." Unfortunately his argument, and those of fellow biologists, has not debunked the popular opinion of many hunters (that an exploding mountain lion population is eradicating Nevada's deer herd) or those of their sympathetic lawmakers.

Also in March 2010 the implementation of the special mountain lion removal plan was put on hold when, citing lack of full support from Nevada officials, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services (WS) refused to carry it out. As a result of this refusal, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commission has now created the Mule Deer Restoration Sub-Committee with the stated purpose of helping to restore mule deer numbers in the state. There is some question as to the impartiality of this committee. At its second public meeting on April 15, 2010, committee liaisons with the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, Nevada Farm Bureau, and Wildlife Services (the agency which carries out the state's predator control directives) were announced.



Last Update: February 14, 2012

ON AIR: Toni Ruth on Predators in Yellowstone

07/19/10 An Audio Interview with Julie West, MLF Broadcaster

In this edition of our audio podcast ON AIR, MLF Volunteer Julie West interviews cougar biologist Toni Ruth about her decades of research, including study of the interactions and competition between wolves, cougars, and bears in Yellowstone National Park.

NEVADA MOUNTAIN LIONS: LAW & REGULATION


Mountain Lion Law in the State of Nevada

In Nevada's legal code, Puma concolor is generally referred to as "mountain lion."

Species Status

The species is classified as a big game mammal, along with pronghorn antelope, black bear, mule deer, mountain goat, Rocky Mountain elk, Nelson bighorn sheep, California bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and any other species classified as a big game mammal by the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners.

Laws pertaining to Nevada's endangered species can be applied to mountain lions because the laws apply to all native fish, wildlife, and other fauna. However, mountain lions are not listed as endangered or threatened in Nevada because the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners does not believe that the species' "existence is endangered and its survival requires assistance because of overexploitation, disease or other factors or its habitat is threatened with destruction, drastic modification or severe curtailment."

State Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of Nevada is governed by the Nevada Revised Statutes - the state's collection of all laws passed by its legislature. Rules regarding the treatment of wildlife in Nevada can also be found in the Nevada Administrative Code - the state's collection of all agency rules. Since our summary below may not be completely up to date, you should be sure to review the most current law for Nevada.

You can check the statutes directly at a state-managed website.

These statutes are not searchable.

The Legislature

The Nevada Legislature is a part-time, bicameral legislature. The lower chamber - the Assembly - is made up of 42 members who serve 2-year terms. The Democratic Party has controlled the Nevada State Assembly since 1997. The upper chamber - the Senate - consists of 21 members who serve 4-year terms. Members of either chamber may only serve 12 years in that chamber. If you do not know who your state legislators are or in which legislative district(s) you live, Nevada maintains this website to help you. If you already know who your state legislators are or in which district(s) you live, you may use the Assembly's membership roster and/or the Senate's roster to contact your representatives.

The Nevada Legislature's regular session begins on the first Monday in February following the election of Assembly members. The session must adjourn before midnight PST on the 120th calendar day of the session. The legislature may call itself into special sessions by submitting a petition signed by two-thirds of the members of each house to the Nevada Secretary of State. The governor may also call the legislature into special sessions, but special sessions called by the legislature take precedence over those called by the governor. Special sessions are limited to 20 calendar days regardless of who calls them.

State Regulation

Nevada's wildlife regulations can be found in Chapters 501, 502, 503, 504, and 505 of the Nevada Administrative Code. The regulations are written by the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners.

Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners

The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners is a 9-member board appointed by the governor. County advisory boards submit the names of potential nominees to the governor. Nevada law requires the board to consist of at least one conservation advocate, a farmer, a rancher, one member who represents the interests of the general public, and five members who held a Nevada hunting and/or fishing license during at least 3 of the 4 years immediately prior to their appointment to the board. No more than three members may be from a county whose population is 700,000 or greater. No more than two commissioners may be from a county whose population is 100,000-699,999. Only one commissioner may be from a county whose population is less than 100,000. The board does not have political diversity rules. The board is responsible for setting state regulations, reviewing budgets, and receiving public input.

Nevada Department of Wildlife

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) is the department in the Nevada state executive branch that enforces the state's wildlife laws and regulations. The NDOW is overseen by the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners.

Management Plan

Nevada's latest plan regarding mountain lion management appears to be their Predation Management Plan Fiscal Year 2014. It appears that a new plan is issued each fiscal year by the NDOW Game Division. The plan is required by commission policy and makes recommendations to guide commission policies.

Hunting Law

Hunting of mountain lions is allowed year-round in the State of Nevada. Officially, March 1 is the date when mountain lion hunting season begins, and February 28 is when the season closes if the state's mountain lion quotas have not already been met. The regulations governing "recreational" hunting of mountain lions specify 118 wildlife management units organized into 29 management areas. Nevada allows hunters to purchase two lion tags per year.

Hound hunting is allowed and does not require any special permits unless the hunter is guiding others during the hunt.

Nevada allows the hunting of mountain lions with centerfire rifles .22 caliber or larger, muzzle-loading rifles and muskets with a single barrel that is .45 caliber or larger, shotguns no larger than 10 gauge and no smaller than 20 gauge, longbows, crossbows, and flash lights to accommodate hunting at night.

After a mountain lion has been killed, the skull and hide must be presented to a WDOW representative within 72 hours. The representative will permanently affix the department's seal to the hide. One of the lion's premolars will also be removed.

Biologists determine how many mountain lions can be harvested in each game management unit. Once a unit's quota is reached, the unit is closed to further hunting to prevent overharvest. Nevada prohibits the killing of killing of spotted kittens and females accompanied by kittens.

Public Safety Law

Nevada law states that there is no criminal penalty for the killing of a mountain lion if "[t]he killing of the animal is necessary to protect the life or property of any person in imminent danger of being attacked by the animal." The law does not state if there are any reporting requirements or what may be done with the carcass of a mountain lion killed for threatening human life.

Depredation Law

Depredation regulation in Nevada states that the director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife may issue a permit to kill a depredating lion. Further regulations state that themountain lion carcass is property of the state and may be retrieved by the NDOW. There is no mention of how soon the killing of the lion must be reported to NDOW. Nevada law also allows people to kill any mountain lion that is actively endangering property. Owners of domestic animals do not appear to be required to take any steps to protect their pets or livestock. There also does not appear to be a government-funded compensation program for losses of domestic animals to mountain lions.

USDA Wildlife Services

The State of Nevada contracts with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services to kill mountain lions that may be threatening the survival of other animals throughout the state. The USDA publishes summaries of its yearly wildlife control programs, but does not appear to specify whether the lions were killed to protect livestock, game species, or both. PDR G reports the numbers of mountain lions and other species killed.

Trapping

Mountain lions may not be trapped for fur in Nevada. The regulations governing trapping in Nevada do not classify mountain lions as a fur-bearing species. If a mountain lion is accidently trapped and killed, it must be reported to a WDOW representative within 48 hours. The carcass must be disposed of in accordance with the representative's directions.

Poaching

Poaching law in the State of Nevada provides some protection of mountain lions in law, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. Unlawfully killing a mountain lion in Nevada is punished as a class E felony, but the court may reduce the penalty to that of a gross misdemeanor. A class E felony is punishable by a prison term of 1-4 years and a fine of up to $5,000. A gross misdemeanor is punished by up to 364 days of imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,000. State regulations also state that poachers are awarded demerit points based on the nature of their offense. Upon the accumulation of 12 demerit points within a 60-month period, the poacher's hunting privilege can be revoked for two, three, five, or ten years.

Road Mortalities

The Nevada Department of Transportation does not keep records of mountain lions killed on the State's roads.