Utah Division of Wildlife wants to cut over 9,000 deer hunt permits


The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is proposing to cut the number of general season buck deer permits by 9,175. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is proposing to cut the number of general season buck deer permits by 9,175. | Bill Bates, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Drought, long winters, fires have chipped away at deer populations

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is proposing to cut the number of general season buck deer permits by 9,175, a move wildlife experts say is needed to preserve the state’s deer populations.

Despite hitting a 10 year peak in 2016, drought, long winters and devastating fires have chipped away at Utah’s deer populations. Heading into the 2020 season, the Division of Wildlife Resources will be offering 80,725 general season buck deer permits. Biologists are also proposing to cut the number of doe permits by 1,045 and cow elk permits by 1,470.

“We know we have fewer deer on the landscape now,” said Covy Jones, big game coordinator for the division. He said the proposed reductions are aimed at managing a healthy buck-to-doe ratio of 15 to 20 bucks for every 100 does so hunters can continue to harvest deer without adversely affecting the population.

“What this does is it provides hunters with the opportunity to hunt at the level of quality we’ve agreed to have,” he said. “When we make these permit recommendations, we take into account last year’s buck-doe ratios, the three-year average of buck-doe ratios and fawn and adult survival.”

According to agency data, the annual number of newborn deer is also low. Jones said a healthy ratio is 60 fawns for every 100 does, but in some regions the number of fawns is down to 30 per 100 does.

“That fawn-doe ratio is key because those are the animals coming into that population next year,” Jones said. “The harvest on general season units are primarily driven by fawn-doe ratios.”

With some regions affected more than others, wildlife experts proposed a decrease on 19 units and no change in the remaining 10 areas. One of the regions hit especially hard is the Oquirrh-Stansbury unit in Tooele County, where fewer fawns led biologists to cut the number of permits from 3,200 to 2,000.

Each of the state’s five regions will get a chance to vote on the proposal and members of the Utah Wildlife Board will consider their views before casting a deciding vote at the end of April. The Division of Wildlife Resources kicked off an online comment period on March 27 and is seeking public input before each region votes.

“There’s a lot that goes into these recommendations,” Jones said. “The more you start to understand them the more you realize how complicated they are.”

Jones said the decrease in permits could draw some criticism from Utah’s hunting community. But John Bair, vice president of the Utah based conservation group Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife, said his organization stands behind the proposal. Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife has 17 chapters throughout the state and roughly 8,000 members, according to organization’s website.

“Overall nobody really likes to see (hunting) opportunities have to be cut,” he said. “But the deer hunters in the state understand it and I think they will be largely in support knowing that if we do everything we can, hopefully in a couple years down the road we can put those tags back and get people back out on the mountain.”

As the former chairman of the Utah Wildlife Board, Bair said the Division of Wildlife Resources is often stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to strike a balance between Utah’s hunting community and a healthy wildlife population.

“I think they’re doing a pretty good job of weighing everything out,” he said. “It’s not an easy job. It’s a thankless job.”

Jones urged hunters to get involved in the the process and to take part in the public comment period.

“The more you get involved the more say you have in what happens,” he said.

The Division of Wildlife Resources is also keeping an eye on predator populations such as cougars, bears and coyotes. In January, director Mike Fowlks issued an emergency change to the 2019–2020 Utah Cougar Guidebook, increasing the cougar harvest objective across 11 units to 117.

Then in March, Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB125 that allows the division to target predators in areas if big game populations are lower than the divisions established herd size. Jones said the bill was another important tool to improve the health of Utah’s deer.

“It allows us to do active management,” he said. “Predators are an important part of the system, but if left unchecked they can be very damaging.”

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