A silent predator emblematic of the Nevada wilderness is at the center of a political debate that has split top levels of state government.
On one side is a Gardnerville-based sportsmen group, Nevada Big Game Restoration, and on the other side are biologists of the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
In the middle, unaffiliated with either party, is the mountain lion.
Just how many lions populate the rugged mountains of Nevada is actually where the disagreement begins.
Nevada Big Game's Jim Ornellas, 87, believes that when lions were reclassified as protected game species in 1965, they numbered 375-400, and have since …