Hunters in limbo over permits after appeals court ruling

RENO - Nevada hunters could face longer odds of getting big game tags under suggestions made to a state board in response to a court ruling affecting Nevada's hunting permit allocation system.

Hunters might have to be restricted to one deer tag every two years to comply with the ruling, the Nevada Wildlife Commission was told Saturday. Hunters now can get the permits annually.

An alternative proposal would limit hunters to only one big game tag a year. It's now possible for hunters to get two or three tags a year for such game as deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and antelope.

The proposals - among more than two dozen being considered - would be moot if a bill designed to strike down the court ruling passes Congress this session.

State wildlife officials are scrambling to revamp the rules after a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in an Arizona case that orders Nevada and other states to place limits on non-resident tags in the "least discriminatory" way.

The commission's plea for suggested changes in the current allotment system also stems from a lawsuit by three New Mexico outfitters accusing Nevada of discriminating against non-residents when issuing big game hunting tags.

The same three prevailed in the case in Arizona, which used a similar quota system to allocate tags for some species.

At Saturday's meeting, about 50 Nevada sportsmen criticized the ruling and asked the commission to protect their interests.

It's hard enough for Nevada hunters to get permits now and it would become even tougher if non-residents get more tags, they said.

Nevada hunters now have a success rate of only 33 percent in getting a deer tag.

"This commission is not going to roll over," commission Chairman Tommy Ford said, adding the state intends to fight the lawsuit.

The commission passed a resolution supporting a bill by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., reaffirming states' rights to manage their own fish and wildlife programs. If passed, Nevada can retain its current system.

But if the legislation fails, commission members said, the state will have to take action to comply with the court's ruling and allow more tags for non-Nevadans.

The commission entertained a broad range of suggestions from sportsmen and county advisory boards for changes in the allotment system, including limits on the number of tags a person can draw in a season.

Another proposal would issue bonus points for conservation work and give hunters with more bonus points a better chance of getting a tag.

Under Nevada's lottery system, about 10 percent of deer and bighorn sheep tags and 5 percent of elk, antelope and mountain goat tags available each year are allocated to non-residents. The rest are reserved for residents.

Though other states use restrictive criteria for some hunts, Nevada is the only state that uses a quota system for all big game species.


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