Elk On Trial

Money woes threaten big-game seasons.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Ever need a couple of bucks to get you by until payday? Nevada's Wildlife Department knows the feeling. It borrowed $3 million from the state just to get through the fiscal year that ended June 2004. One big reason for the financial shortfall, says agency spokesperson Chris Healy, is a half dozen years of drought. That's made fewer big-game tags available in some areas. But the larger drop-off has been in fishing licenses sold, as anglers opt for places with more water.

"At Lake Mead, they've lost a lot of the water level," says Healy. "The fishing's actually still very good, but aesthetically it doesn't look like the kind of lake people want to fish."

A new Internet application system for big-game tags has cost the department, too. Before, hunters snail-mailed applications and tag fees to the department, pumping in hundreds of thousands of dollars by March. Now, Wildlife receives only the $12 application fee.

Another potential worry: an ongoing lawsuit by outfitters to end Nevada's cap on nonresident big-game tags. If the outfitters get an injunction to halt the fall hunt, which is a possibility, Healy says Wildlife could lose millions.

Meanwhile Colorado's Department of Wildlife (DOW) has asked the state legislature to raise some license fees, including resident big-game tags; a decision was expected after this issue went to press. License sales remain strong here, says DOW spokesperson Tyler Baskfield, but resident hunters haven't seen a fee increase since 1992. However, inflation has crept up and DOW has spent millions fighting chronic wasting and whirling diseases.