Lions were persecuted as vermin in Nevada from the time of European settlement until 1965 when the state classified them as a big game mammal. However, sport hunting quotas and mountain lion mortality have continued to rise, despite opposition from the public.
About forty-five percent of the state is suitable habitat but lion populations are struggling and continue to be threatened by Nevada’s Predator Management Program. The legislatively-mandated project spends about half a million dollars annually killing lions.
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Mountain lions were considered unprotected fur animals and $5 bounties were paid for each lion killed. Mortality records date back to 1917. From 1917 until their classification as game animals in 1965, at least 1,705 lions were killed in Nevada.
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 latter half of the 1990s, Nevada’s mountain lion hunting regulations have become increasingly lax to simplify and increase hunter involvement. Today, the annual “harvest quota” stays at around 250 mountain lions per year. That does not include mountain lions killed for livestock depredation, as well as the consistent annual slaughter of mountain lions to protect mule deer and bighorn sheep.
Classified as a game animal.
Hunting is open year-round.
Hunters are allowed to use dogs to hunt lions.
Estimated population: Nevada Department of Wildlife previously used a population estimate of 2000 mountain lions, but recently commissioned a third party to develop population reconstruction model using hunter harvest data. The model estimates the population at 3,400 mountain lions. However, the model likely overestimates the population both due to relying heavily on hunter harvest data (a nonrandom sampling source) and because no consideration of habitat conditions were factored into the model. Research from Nevada and the Great Basin demonstrates that megadrought conditions from human induced climate change are decreasing the abundance of both mountain lions and their prey.
Annual hunting: Nevada sets high annual quotas of around 250 lions
NDOW has been managing mountain lions a big game mammal since 1965. 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.
Unfortunately, the plan has not done much to benefit lions and is merely a way to set 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.
Mountain lions are not included in the state’s 2013 Wildlife Action Plan, despite 46 pages being allocated for Nevada mammals.
The 1995 Cougar Management Plan was still referred to as the State’s standard plan in a 2008 Mountain Lion Status Report.
Since 1917 (the first year records are available) until 2015, an estimated 8,510 mountain lions have been killed by humans in Nevada, with 80 percent of these deaths occurring after 1965 when mountain lions were classified as game animals.
This figure does not include:
many of the lion deaths from road accidents
kittens or injured adults euthanized by NDOW
death by unknown causes
intraspecific strife from home range disruption
the “shoot-shovel-and-shut up” practices espoused by some ranchers
Hunting Mountain Lions in Nevada
Nevada’s Mountain Lion Hunting Season runs all year, from March 1 through February 28. Night hunting is also allowed. Nevada’s 17 Game Management Units (GMUs) are combined into three hunting regions (Western, Eastern, and Southern). Hunting quotas are established for each of these regions rather than for individual GMUs.
When the quota (also called “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.
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.
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 former NDOW mule deer specialist and current Director of NDOW, 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 created the Mule Deer Restoration Sub-Committee (now called the Mule Deer Working Group) 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.
Predator Management Program and the $3 Fee
AB291 Introduced at the 71st session of the Nevada State Legislature on March 6, 2001 sought to establish a fee for all Nevada hunt permit applications to be used for predator management. NRS 502.253 was signed into law May 31, 2001. This legislation created an additional application processing fee ($3) for all game tags to be used by NDOW for costs related to:
Programs for the management and control of injurious predatory wildlife;
Wildlife management activities relating to the protection of nonpredatory game animals, sensitive wildlife species and related wildlife habitat;
Conducting research, as needed, to determine successful techniques for managing and controlling predatory wildlife, including studies necessary to ensure effective programs for the management and control of injurious predatory wildlife; and
Programs for the education of the general public concerning the management and control of predatory wildlife.
According to Nevada’s Predator Management Plan FY 2022, there are 12 predator management projects totaling $749,000. Six of these projects involve lethal removal of mountain lions and amount to $430,000.
Project 22-01: Mountain Lion Removal to Protect California Bighorn Sheep (Unit 011 and 013) – $90,000
NDOW biologists, USDA Wildlife Services, and private contractors will
collaborate to identify current and future California bighorn sheep locations and determine the best methods to reduce California bighorn sheep mortality. Traps, snares, baits, call boxes, and hounds will be used to proactively capture mountain lions as they immigrate into the defined sensitive areas.
NDOW biologists will identify current and future Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep locations and determine the best methods to monitor this population. Additional GPS collars will be purchased and deployed to monitor the bighorn sheep population. If mountain lion predation is identified as an issue, then traps, snares, baits, call boxes, and hounds will be used to lethally remove mountain lions from the area.
Project 37: Big Game Protection-Mountain Lions (Statewide) – $100,000
NDOW will specify locations of mountain lions that may be influencing local
declines of sensitive game populations. Locations will be determined with GPS 16 collar points, trail cameras, and discovered mountain lion kill sites. Removal efforts will be implemented when indices levels are reached, these include low annual adult survival rates, poor fall young:female ratios, spring young:female ratios, and low adult female annual survival rates (table 3). Depending on the indices identified, standard to intermediate levels of monitoring will be implemented to determine the need for or effect of predator removal. These additional monitoring efforts may be conducted by NDOW employees, USDA Wildlife Services, or private contractors. Staff and biologists will identify species of interest, species to be removed,
measures and metrics, and metric thresholds. This information will be recorded on the Local Predator Removal Progress Form (see appendix) and included in the annual predator report.
Project 40: Coyote and Mountain Lion Removal to Complement Multi-faceted Management in Eureka County (Unit 144) – $100,000
USDA Wildlife Services and private contractors working under direction of
NDOW and Eureka County, will use foothold traps, snares, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for aerial gunning, and calling and gunning from the ground to remove coyotes in sensitive areas during certain times of the year.
A private contractor will use existing mountain lion harvest data collected by NDOW biologists to develop a harvest model. The modeling approach will
involve Integrated Population Modeling (IPM) which brings together different sources of data to model wildlife population dynamics (Abadi et al. 2010, Fieberg et al. 2010). With IPM, generally a joint analysis is conducted in which population abundance is estimated from survey or other count data, and demographic parameters are estimated from data from marked individuals (Chandler and Clark 2014). Age-at-harvest data can be used in combination with other data, such as telemetry, mark-recapture, food availability, and home range size to allow for improved modeling of abundance and population dynamics relative to using harvest data alone (Fieberg et al. 2010). Depending on available data, the contractor will build a count-based or structured demographic model (Morris and Doak 2002) for mountain lions in Nevada. The model (s) will provide estimates of population growth, age and sex structure, and population abundance relative to different levels of harvest.
Project 44: Lethal Removal and Monitoring of Mountain Lions in Area 24 (Areas 23 and 24) – $100,000
Mountain lions in the area of concern will be lethally removed (see map) until three consecutive years of adult annual survival for bighorn sheep exceed an average of 90% and fall female to young ratios exceed 30:100.
Mountain lions in the proximity area (see map) will be captured with the use of hounds and/or foot snares. Captured mountain lions will be chemically immobilized and marked with a GPS collar. Marked mountain lions that enter the area of concern and consume bighorn sheep will be lethally removed.
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.
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. More recently, Drs. Peter Mahoney and John Benson from University of Nebraska-Lincoln were contracted to update Nevada’s mountain lion population model. This effort resulted in an estimate of 3,400 mountain lions.
More recent research in the United States and peer-reviewed publications by leading cougar biologists indicate cougar density is roughly 1.7 resident adults per 100 square kilometers of habitat. With about 50,000 square miles (130,000 square kilometers) of habitat, Mountain Lion Foundation estimates that Nevada’s cougar population is currently somewhere closer to 2,200 animals.
In Nevada’s legal code, Puma concolor is generally referred to as “mountain lion.”
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.”
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 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.
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.
Nevada still uses the Comprehensive Mountain Lion Management Plan written in 1995. The plan is required by commission policy and makes recommendations to guide commission policies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are currently no Action Alerts for Nevada. Be sure to check back often for action items in the state!
Nevada Mountain Lion Files Sorted by Type
Andreasen, A. M., Stewart, K. M., Longland, W. S., Beckmann, J. P., & Forister, M. L. , 2012, Identification of source-sink dynamics in mountain lions of the Great Basin
Ashman et al 1983 the Mountain Lion in Nevada
Bean, M. L., & Science, L. , 2016, SURVIVORSHIP AND CAUSE-SPECIFIC MORTALITY IN FIVE POPULATIONS OF MULE DEER
Beckmann Lackey 2002 Evaluation of Deterrent Techniques
Berger 1999 Intervention and Persistence in Small Populations of Bighorn Sheep
Berger Wehausen 1991 Consequences of a Mammalian Predator Prey Disequilibrium in the Great Basin Desert
Bernt, J. , 1982, Pre-Cougar Point Tuff volcanic rocks near the Idaho-Nevada border, Owyhee County, Idaho, 321–330
Bonnichsen, Citron, B. , 1982, The Cougar Point Tuff, Southwestern Idaho and Vicinity
Conover, M. R., Pitt, W. C., Kessler, K. K., Dubow, T. J., Sanborn, A., Dubow, T. J., & Sanborn, W. A. , 1995, Review of Human Injuries , Illnesses , and Economic Losses Caused by Wildlife in the United States
Dyke, F. G. Van, Brocke, R. H., Shaw, H. G., Ackerman, B. B., Hemker, P., & Lindzey, F. G. , 2013, LIONS TO LOGGING AND OF MOUNTAIN REACTIONS
Faraizl, S. D., & Stiver, S. J. , 1996, A profile of depredating mountain lions
Gray et al 2007 Live Trapping and Monitoring Mountain Lion Movements within a Feral Horse Population in Storey County Nevada 2005-2007
Gray, M., Jr, J. S., & Thain, D. , 2008, Live Trapping and Monitoring Mountain Lion Movements within a Feral Horse Population in Storey County , Nevada , 2005 – 2007
Greger, P. D., & Romney, E. M. , 2016, HIGH FOAL MORTALITY LIMITS GROWTH
Iriarte, J. A., Franklin, W. L., Johnson, W. E., & Redford, K. H. , 1990, Biogeographic variation of food habits and body size of the America puma
Kurushima, J. D., Collins, J. A., Well, J. A., & Ernest, H. B. , 2006, Development of 21 microsatellite loci for puma
Mcadoo, J. K., Klebenow, D. A., Mcadoo, J. K., & Klebenow, D. A. , 2016, Society for Range Management Predation on Range Sheep with No Predator Control Linked references are available on JSTOR for this article?: Predation on Range Sheep with No Predator Control, 31
Pierce, B. M., Bleich, V. C., & Terry Bowyer, R. , 2000, Selection of Mule Deer By Mountain Lions and Coyotes: Effects of Hunting Style, Body Size, and Reproductive Status
Pierce, B. M., Bleich, V. C., Bowyer, R. T., & Pierce, B. M. , 2011, Social Organization of Mountain Lions?: Does a Land-Tenure System Regulate Population Size
Robinette, W. L., Gashwiler, J. S., & Morris, O. W. , 1961, Notes on Cougar Productivity and Life History
Robinette, W. L., Gashwiler, J. S., & Morris, O. W. , 1959, Food habits of the cougar in Utah and Nevada
Rowe, R. J., Terry, R. C., & Rickart, E. A. , 2011, Environmental change and declining resource availability for small mammal communities in the Great Basin
Sierra Nevada Wildlands Project 1999 Mountain Lion Conservation Strategy
Suminski, H. R. , 1982, Domestic Livestock in Nevada
Sumiski 1982 Mountain Lion Predation on Domestic Livestock in Nevada
Sweitzer et al 1997 Near Extinction of Porcupines By Mountain Lions and Consequences of Ecosystem Change in the Great Basin Desert
Sweitzer, R. A., Jenkins, S. H., & Berger, J. , 2016, Society for Conservation Biology Near-Extinction of Porcupines by Mountain Lions and Consequences of Ecosystem Change in the Great Basin Desert Linked references are available on JSTOR for this article?: Near-Extinction of Porcupines by Mountain Lions and Consequences of Ecosystem Change in the Great Basin Desert, 11
Sweitzer, R. A., Jenkins, S. H., & Berger, J. , 1997, Near-Extinction of Porcupines by Mountain Lions and Consequences of Ecosystem Change in the Great Basin Desert
Turner Jr., J. W., Wolfe, M. L., & Kirkpatrick, J. F. , 1992, Seasonal mountain lion predation on a feral horse population
Turner, J. W., Morrison, M. L., Turner, J. W., & Morrison, M. L. , 2015, Southwestern Association of Naturalists
USFS Suminski 1982 Abstract Mountain Lion Predation on Domestic Livestock in Nevada