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Project 36


Nevada has about 1400 mountain lions widely distributed across the state. The animal is classified as a big game species. Hunters pay guides several thousand dollars to help them pursue and kill it as a trophy. Wildlife Services, the “government trappers” kill a couple dozen a year in valiant defense of the livestock industry and for more dubious reasons.

In the past 15 years or so, combined (all causes) mortality for the animal exceeds 11-14 % of the base population about half the time. According to current science, that is probably not a sustainable level and the lion population in Nevada may be taking an undeserved “hit”.

Recently, a further source of mortality (of unknown extent) has been identified. A UNR graduate student obtained her Ph.D. in part by studying lions in and around the Reno area using live capture/transmitting collars. Of the 48 lions included in her study, a significant number had adverse encounters with traps/snares such that she has submitted a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, documenting those injuries and deaths.

It is illegal to trap mountain lions in Nevada. They are caught incidentally in bobcat traps. Bobcats and mountain lions tend to live in similar habitat and have similar habits (both being of the felid family). Since bobcat trappers operate around the state for 3-4 months every winter, scattering thousands of traps across the landscape, lions are at risk for trap/snare encounters every winter.

For several years, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) and the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners (NBWC) have known from annual trapper self-reports (of animals captured in their traps) that fur trappers incidentally catch hundreds of mountain lions over a decade.

However, they have had no inclination to take any action to address this issue for various reasons including not wanting to antagonize trappers by forcing adjustments in trapping methods and being indifferent to the plight of the mountain lion since it is kills and eats mule deer as part of its natural diet. (Deer hunters regard the lion as a competitor and do not value its place in our ecosystem.)

After the UNR graduate student came up with her findings regarding lion/trap/snare encounters, presented the information at a major conference (May, 2017) and prepared her paper for publication, the Nevada Department of Wildlife decided it needed to respond by creating a program that, from its inception, was designed to show that the researcher’s findings were an anomaly pertaining only to lions living around Reno and not applicable state-wide even though bobcat trapping occurs state-wide and lions live all over Nevada.

Project 36 came into being in 2015. Lions caught in traps around Reno were kept in the trap until NDOW staff showed up to have a look at the animal, document and photograph it and determine its viability for release or euthanasia. Those animals deemed viable for release received a transmitting collar and would be followed to see if they survived or died.

NDOW staff initially approached the Wildlife Damage Management committee of NBWC asking for funding for Project 36 from monies that were available to fund research regarding mountain lions. Funding was refused by NBWC, partly on the grounds that two of the committee members thought that sportsmen would not like their fees to be used to fund any project beneficial to mountain lions (competitor “envy”). NDOW staff managed to find alternative funding and now have data from the 2016-2017, 2017-2018 trapping seasons.

Project 36 has documented about two dozen lions caught in traps/snares mostly around Reno during those two trapping seasons. The photographic evidence is intensely disturbing as are necropsy results. While the exact number of lions included in the UNR graduate’s study is unavailable, it seems likely that over the past 7 years, there have been at least 40 lions (combined Project 36/UNR study) impacted by incidental trapping just around Reno.

State-wide, the frequency/severity of incidental lion encounters with traps/snares is unknown. It is most certainly not zero! Currently, there is no visible effort being made by NDOW/NBWC to find out nor any concern shown by either group to address this situation.

For those of you who wish to view the photographic evidence taken from Project 36 files, they are available above. These photos are select examples taken from many dozen similar images of 20 animals reviewed by NDOW staff under Project 36.

For those of you who are offended by these images and by the studied indifference of NDOW/NBWC to take remedial action to reduce the risk to lions from bobcat trappers, we share your discomfort. Opportunities for expressing your concern are somewhat limited. Letters or emails can be sent to NDOW/NBWC. Contact information for NDOW and wildlife commissioners is available at http://www.ndow.org

This matter is also the subject of an ongoing lawsuit currently set for trial on August 13, 2018.

For further information, contact Don Molde: skyshrink@aol.com