Nebraska Sportsmen’s Foundation (NSF) members, partners and fellow sportsmen thank you all for your inquiries, concerns and suggestions regarding the Nebraska Game & Parks (NGP) action on issuing an elk depredation tag for western Nebraska on September 27, 2019. The NSF has been involved in hearings, discussions and meetings regarding this issue since the summer of 2018. We feel it is important for you to understand the who, how and why timeline that led to the actions by NG&P.
We can assure you the goal of the NSF is to work on writing and enhancing positive legislation. Not to mention, working to correct proposed legislation that is harmful. All of this is achieved by being at the legislative table and part of the solution. If we are not successful in either of those directions, we work to stop the proposed legislation.
Become A Member And Help Us Help You
The NSF is a member driven foundation. Above all we are here to protect sporting rights. We accomplish this by working side by side in partnership with NG&P, state leaders and State Senators.
The balance between healthy wildlife populations, recreational hunting, and social tolerance is an objective of big game management for the Commission, the Nebraska Sportsmen’s Foundation and of course all sportsmen and women.
Elk Depredation Tag Direct Result Of Several Factors
To be clear, we feel the elk depredation tag issued is the direct result of the following:
1. Upon the insistence of a State Senator that NG&P needed to provide immediate action to kill elk for a landowner.
2. Limited access and reluctance to shoot antlerless animals have complicated the use of hunting as a population management tool.
3. Historic range and hay land is now row crops which increases the likelihood of conflicts between wildlife populations and agricultural landowners. In the last 20 years, 1.2 million more acres in row crops have been planted in Nebraska.
4. Lastly, the final tipping point is LB 126 and Senator Erdmann pushing the landowner and the NG&P through media soundbites.
State Statues Very Clear
Nebraska State Statutes on depredation are very clear on how the NG&P must proceed and how they must handle all claims. State law binds them on how to issue based on damage.
Yes, the NSF has concerns about the amount (50) of animals able to be taken with the elk depredation tag issued by NG&P. Not to mention the issues that this brings. Let me reiterate, we feel this is the result of personal agendas and a lack of discussions to find solutions. In addition, it is compounded by State Senators and current law.
All Damage Control Complaints Reviewed
In working with NG&P over the past years, I have reviewed all damage control complaints covering the state. I have reviewed the work done after the complaint is filed and the results. NG&P have been very solid at working with those landowners who have used the current programs. However, a large number of landowners either are not aware of current programs or do not want the interference.
With that said, every agency needs to review action plans and direction. This is to ensure all is being done that is allowed by law. The NG&P understands that this discussion has had benefits for them. It has pushed them to look at new ideas and directions regarding depredation, number of permits and number of antlerless tags across the state.
Landowner, NG&P Have Worked Together
The landowner they issued the elk depredation tag for on Friday, September 27, 2019, has been working with NG&P for the past 6 or 7 years on depredation issues. Issues caused not only by elk but mule deer as well. The elk issue has increased. In the past, NG&P and the landowner have worked to add fencing and other measures.
However, in 2019, the landowner has been slow to respond to plans to help with the situation. The landowner wanted to use hunters to solve the problem first and had not contacted the NG&P in 2019 regarding any issue.
In our opinion, Senator Erdman pushing an agenda forced the landowner to complain and NG&P took the following steps:
1. NG&P investigated and did record an estimated herd of 80 to 100 elk. The herd was on roughly 11,000 acres, with severe crop loss damage due to the elk.
2. The landowner planned on up to four people hunting this year. Those four would pay a fee to hunt.
3. Plus, three family and friends hunting.
4. Using the media, Senator Erdman created the issue and NG&P once again revisited with the landowner.
5. The elk depredation tag issued.
Elk Depredation Tag Facts
The facts are the following:
1. Up to 50 elk may be taken.
2. All antlers must be turned over to NG&P.
3. Once the harvest begins, NG&P will review to see if the elk have moved away. As we all understand, animals tend to move once the shooting begins.
4. They will be monitoring the progress and will decide if more need to be harvested. We doubt all 50 will be taken, but that could happen in this case.
5. The landowner cannot profit from the elk depredation tag or sell or transfer the tag.
6. Thanks to Senator Erdman, the landowner is under a very high level of review right now and would not do anything to create an issue.
7. The landowner owns this ground and has the right to allow or not to allow hunters on his land.
8. The NSF would prefer The North American model of management by hunting and control the cow population.
Yes, the NSF has concerns with the number issued. However, we have a larger concern on the steps that brought us to this point. Our mission is to educate hunters, Senators and NG&P on the how this effects sportsmen, landowners and the elk herd. And of course, to find other ways to manage depredation moving forward.
We understand the strong feelings about the 50 number and understand the discussion. However, please be clear as you go through our timeline below to understand who really pushed this and why. Again, our goal is to educate and find other directions.
NSF Timeline, LB 126, LR 142 and Depredation
- NSF heard soft discussions were taking place by two western Nebraska Senators regarding wildlife depredation.
- We inquired and were told “nothing to discuss”, just looking into it.
- Moreover, we offered our help and desire to be at the table.
- News stories appeared in local papers out west from Senator Erdman, District 47. Statements were made that nonresidents were harming the peacefulness of the Sandhills deer hunting and they were harming the use of Lake McConaughy. Senator Hughes, District 44, stated that crop depredation is a concern. Landowners are feeding the deer so they should get some relief. These articles were in Star Herald and North Platte Telegraph. You can read additional comments here.
- NSF met with Senator Hughes on two occasions. We wanted to know what his goals were and what he felt was right. We were told, “Do not worry. This was only a step to create awareness of the issue and to have NG&P do more.”.
- We met with NG&P leaders twice to discuss facts, history and direction.
- NSF learns legislative bill written to address crop depredation, additional landowner permits, a separate LB 127 and an extended season for landowners.
- Again, we meet with Senator Hughes, and informed “No need to worry”. We knew better.
- Met with members and partners to craft a defense of both LB 126 & 127.
- Worked in partnership with NG&P to defeat both bills. We gathered facts, numbers and reality of depredation issues in Nebraska. The NSF also understood that the way the bill was written it did nothing to address crop depredation in any manner. Current state statute on depredation is in place and states what NG&P duties and roles are to be.
- Senator Hughes introduces LB 126 on January 10.
- Senator Hughes introduces LB 127 on January 10.
- Natural Resource Committee (NRC) holds hearings January 23 on both bills.
- NSF testifies in opposition of both bills.
- Partners, members and sportsmen respond with 150 letters against and 10 testify against. Keep in mind, Senator Hughes is chair of the NRC and introduced the bills. The testimony by his people proved it really had nothing to do with depredation. They wanted a private season prior to the rifle season to shoot, in their words, “That big 8 pointer they have fed before anyone else could.”.
- Fought the bill after the hearing by working with Senators. We were able to amend LB 127 limiting the number of landowner permits allowed. LB 126 was still in committee.
- Senator Hughes forces LB 126 out of committee to the General file on April 5. Even with strong opposition numbers he pushed it out. Senator Bostelman is the only no vote to move it out. We are told by Senator Hughes, no worries it will not be heard this session. The problem is the bill now sits until next session, can be amended and voted on.
- Informed he will do an interim study to work with sportsmen, landowners and NG&P. We ask for clarity: is this about depredation or shooting horns? No real answer given.
May, June & July 2019
Senator Hughes introduces LR 142 on May 16 which is an interim hearing to review the four areas of NG&P.
(1) Commission districts and representation
(2) Management of wildlife populations
(3) Frequency, content, and location of meetings and hearings
(4) Management of park facilities.
The goal of LR 142 is to review the areas through public testimony and make recommendations to the full body. We know it is to create pressure on NG&P and add items to LB 126 when the next session starts. The NSF goal is to kill this bill and find better solutions.
- On four different occasions, the NSF meets with Senator Hughes’s staff and committee legal counsel
- We provide five different approaches from other states concerning depredation. These involve management by landowners, youth driven mentor hunts with depredation tags, and donation to Hunters Helping the Hungry Program. We’ve shown we are willing to work with Senator Hughes to find other ways for resolutions on the issue. Aside, from paying for crop loss.
- During the same time frame, we are invited to meet with NG&P. Four years of data concerning this issue provided. Including harvest numbers for does and depredation issues statewide.
- We are still not clear from Senator Hughes on what he wants other than money for crop loss.
- In the same time, Senator Erdman is preaching throughout District 47 about how bad NG&P is and lack of response to the issues.
- On August 9, hearing dates are set for LR 142. The first will be in Scottsbluff on September 18 and last in McCook on September 19.
- Planning begins on testimony direction for the hearings. We have been trying to work with all involved but feel we are being stonewalled. Of course we prepare for two directions. Nice and easy continuing to work together to find solutions or to take the fight up a notch, if needed. Also, we continue to work with our partners and NG&P on direction.
- NSF attends the Scottsbluff hearing.
- There are five partners there to testify.
- We are ambushed by Senator Hughes’s people.
- The hearing was taken a direction that was not positive.
- I set new course for the next day.
- NSF agrees that we will continue to work with all parties to find a solution. But it needs to be a fair discussion with the facts, not fiction.
- 15 partners, including landowners, testified against the bill.
- Senator Erdman did not bother to show up at either hearing. He did, however, keep pushing NG&P and the media during this time.
The NSF’s goal for LB 126 is a bill that truly addresses depredation without a cash payment to landowners. If common ground cannot be found we will work to kill the bill.
The Nebraska Sportsmen’s Foundation is not happy with the elk depredation tag that was issued. Especially the push by a Senator to make it happen. However, we understand the how, why and who. We will still work to achieve our goal so this does not happen again moving forward.
To review the LB’s listed, follow this link. In upper right hand corner, you can type in the number and review the entire bill. You can also use the same link to find each Senator’s contact information. Please do so and let them know your thoughts and opinions.
Article by: Scott Smathers – Executive Director of the Nebraska Sportsmen’s Foundation