Gardener Davis is a lifelong hunter, and like most of us outdoor enthusiasts he has definite opinions about hunting and the role hunters play in conservation.
"I've been a hunter all my life. I've killed multiple elk, deer, antelope and moose. You name it, I've hunted it, harvested it and eaten it," said the 48-year-old resident of Stagecoach, a rural community located east of Carson City. "In my opinion, if you are going to do that you need to give something back. If every hunter gave something back, we'd have 10 times the animals we have."
While many people talk about giving back, Davis and his wife, Janell, put their money and their property where his mouth is. The couple recently reached an agreement with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that created the organization's first conservation easement in the Silver State on their Elko County ranch. Though the ranch isn't huge by some standards, its impact on wildlife resources is.
Known as the Black Mountain Conservation Easement, the 647-acre property is located about 20 air miles northwest of Wells and includes five ponds that are full of water year-round and meadows Davis describes as being "4 feet tall in grass."
For the local elk population, this slice of heaven hasn't gone unnoticed.
"On average, I would say 20 to 25 cow elk have their calves on my property a year. I consider what I own as the nursery. The cows are in there all summer, most of the winter until the snow gets too deep, and in the spring," Davis said. "It gives those certain cows that know my property a place that they can get away from cattle, people and raise their calves in kind of like a sanctuary where they have good feed, good water, and they don't have to go more than a hundred yards to get that."
But it hasn't always been this way.
When Davis purchased the ranch, "the meadows had been overgrazed, the sage brush encroachment on the meadows was phenomenal."
Since then, part of the property has burned, which opened up acreage once constricted by thick stands of pinion and juniper trees, and no grazing has been permitted. In addition, Davis has invested more than $30,000 in reseeding efforts that also benefit antelope, mule deer and sage grouse.
Every easement is unique, reflects the specific values of a given piece of real estate, and generally removes the right to develop and subdivide the property. However, the landowner retains ownership, explained Bob Hammond, Southwest lands program manager for the RMEF.
There is an allowance for such things as a residence or a moderate level of cattle grazing, "which means you can graze it, but when the cattle are removed we want to see enough vegetation left that it will be there and available for wildlife," he said.
And having his ranch there and available for wildlife is Davis' goal.
"What I gave (the RMEF) is the right to make sure the property is 100 percent secured and kept for elk, deer and antelope, as well as sage grouse," Davis said. "It's got to stay for wildlife. You're not going to subdivide it, tear it apart and destroy it."
Although Davis limits public access to his property, he does allow a small number of hunters on his place every year. All he asks is that hunters call and obtain permission before hunting on his land. The phone number is on every no trespassing sign he posts.
David Allen, RMEF president and CEO, is excited about Nevada's new conservation easement.
"RMEF has a history in Nevada that dates back decades, but this working relationship with a conservation-minded family solidifies the positive impact we can have on elk now and in the years to come," he said.
To date, the foundation has protected or enhanced nearly 290,000 acres of habitat in Nevada alone.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at email@example.com.