Nevada Wildlife Director Terry Crawforth told legislative budget committees Tuesday a federal lawsuit could bankrupt the department.
The suit, filed by a group of out-of-state hunters, attempts to force states to open more big-game tags to nonresidents. Nevada, like Arizona and most other states, limits the number of big-game tags available to nonresidents. Crawforth said they can have only10 percent of the total number of tags issued each year.
But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled such limits on nonresidents violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The group has filed similar suits in Nevada, Wyoming, Illinois and North Dakota.
Crawforth said the hunters have threatened to ask the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas for a restraining order that would stop Nevada from holding its annual drawing and selling big-game tags this year.
"If we do not change to give them fair and equal access, they will stop us from having a drawing," he said.
That, he said, would cut off the department's primary source of income for the year, leaving him with no way to pay for Wildlife Department salaries and operating costs.
"If we end up with a restraining order stopping this year's hunt, we would be about ready to turn out the lights and lock the doors the first of July," he told legislators.
Crawforth said his department borrowed $3 million from the state general fund this year to cover its expenses. Despite increases in fees approved by the 2003 Legislature, he said, the Department of Wildlife has not generated anywhere near what it projected in income and has now used up its reserves.
The wildlife fund will have only $53,000 left at the end of the fiscal year and the boating fund just $45,000, he said.
To balance his budget, he is eliminating five positions - four rangers in Southern Nevada and one clerk in Carson City.
That follows three Northern Nevada positions that were eliminated this past year.
Wildlife is funded by fees from hunting and fishing tags and licenses, boating fees and other revenues it brings in each year. The department has asked in past sessions to get some of its funding from the state treasury but the governor and lawmakers have refused to take that step.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.