|Three different Division of Wildlife (NDOW) programs offer landowners money or big game tags in return for supporting wildlife use of, or compensating damage caused by wildlife on, private property. In the past, the goals of the compensation/incentive tag programs have been to mitigate financial losses due to damages caused by wildlife, while promoting hunter access. Although these programs will continue, future compensation programs may focus more on access and habitat improvements in return for tags. Hunter access will continue to be a focus in compensation tag programs. Two of the three programs have existed for some time, since 1992 for the Landowners Compensation Tag Program and since 1999 for the Elk Incentive Tag Program. Another program, the Mule Deer Incentive Tag Program is just now being discussed by a subcommittee of the Board of Wildlife.
The Landowners Compensation Tag Program was instituted in July 1992 in response to complaints from the agricultural community about damage caused by deer and antelope in the state. Deer and antelope tags were issued to landowners as compensation for damage to private lands. Originally, compensation tags were limited by statute at 200; however, in the year 2000, for the first time, more compensation tags were requested than were allowed by law. In response to that, the (NRS 502.145) was amended by the 2001 Legislature to give the Commission the authority to annually establish the compensation tag ceiling calculated upon 1.5% of the total authorized number of antelope and deer tags, not including youth (1107) and guided nonresident (1235) quotas. The number of compensation tags would vary by year, but would likely range from 300-400. The program allows landowners/managers to be compensated one tag for each 50 animals found to be present on the private land. Landowners may keep a tag or sell it as they see fit, and are required to allow access through their land to adjoining public land as part of their agreement with NDOW.
In a similar fashion, the Elk Incentive Tag Program began with the goal of "buying tolerance" for the presence of elk on private lands. NRS 502.142 established statutory support for a program to establish elk, a non-native big game species, in the state. Wildlife managers knew that elk could thrive in the state, but ranchers and farmers had little tolerance for the damage they caused. The Elk Incentive Tag Program provided a formula by which landowners could request either tags or money as mitigation for damages to, or use of, private property by elk. Like the Landowners Compensation Tag Program, the Elk Incentive Tag Program required participating landowners to provide access to blocked public lands during the hunting season as part of their agreement.
Both programs have seen their share of successes and failures. The Landowner Compensation Tag Program has served as a preferred alternative to the large-scale deer removals of days gone by. The tags do not prevent deer or antelope from continuing to cause damage, but the sales of the tags have certainly purchased landowner "tolerance." Some sportsmen criticize the program as an incentive for "hobby" ranchers to set up new alfalfa operations, or to exploit established fields within mule deer country with the intent of attracting deer for the expressed purpose of obtaining the compensation tags, for personal use or profit.
Visit any meeting on Elk Incentive Tags statewide, and you'll hear ranchers complain about NDOW biologists who didn't count the largest number of elk coming into the alfalfa fields, and therefore didn't offer adequate compensation. Other ranchers are satisfied to share their lands for wildlife use and consider the tags a good deal. For hunters, the program has paid off with an increasing herd size, expanded elk habitat, and access to public lands that might otherwise be blocked.
Access and habitat improvements could become primary goals of the Mule Deer Incentive Tag Program, which was discussed at a joint meeting of the Commission's Compensation Tag Program and Access subcommittees in Elko on August 2, 2001. The program was tabled temporarily, until additional information is available. Bill Bradley, chairman of the Compensation Tag subcommittee, says the idea would be to increase cooperation between sportsmen and agricultural interests.
NRS 502.143, which was established during the 1997 Legislature, allows the Commission to establish regulations governing the issuance of special incentive deer tags to private landowners who improve deer or other wildlife habitat on their property, and who allow hunting and viewing by the general public on that property.
The landowner/manager could then be allowed to sell any special incentive deer tags that he/she is issued, at a price to be set between the seller and buyer.
In a state where the deer herd is limited and so is access, private landowners often hold the key to hunter satisfaction.
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