From birds to big game, DWR seeks public input on proposed changes to 2021 hunts

Bull elk in the wild, Southern Utah, Sept. 26, 2012 | Photo by Ron Stewart, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is recommending a few changes to the 2021 big game hunts and is seeking the public’s feedback on the proposals. The division is also seeking feedback on deer management plans and proposed changes to waterfowl hunting.

Big game hunt recommendations

After receiving feedback from the elk committee, which consists of DWR representatives and other organizations, including Brigham Young University wildlife researchers, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Utah Farm Bureau, private landowners, sportsmen and other members of the public, DWR biologists are recommending several changes to the 2021 elk hunts.

According to a press release from the DWR, these changes include a proposal to modify the current elk management plan to allow for an unlimited number of any-bull elk permits for the 2021 hunting season.

“We’re making this recommendation after in-depth discussions with the elk committee who wrote the statewide elk management plan. It’s a way to expand hunting opportunities for families, strengthen ties to Utah’s hunting heritage and provide a challenge for hunters since this is not an easy hunt,” DWR big game coordinator Covy Jones said in athepress release.

In recent years, the general-season any-bull elk permits have been limited to 15,000 statewide. These permits allow hunters to harvest a bull elk on designated any-bull hunting units, using a muzzleloader or any legal weapon. This recommendation to remove the limit on any-bull elk permits will not affect spike bull elk, which will still be capped at 15,000 permits statewide.

DWR biologists also recommend adding new limited-entry elk hunts on five different hunting units throughout the state, as well as some hunting unit boundary changes and new general-season elk hunting units.

Stock photo of pronghorn buck courtesy of the Utah DWR for St. George News

Several new hunts are being proposed for other big game species, including the following one new legal weapon hunt for deer; five new pronghorn hunts, including three muzzleloader, one archery and one any legal weapon hunt; one new bison hunt and a boundary change for one bison hunting unit; and one new hunt for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep along with a boundary change for that hunt in two units.

A rule change is also being recommended for the Dedicated Hunter program, which would limit the number of dedicated hunter permits available in the big game drawing to a maximum of one resident and one nonresident permit, if 15% of the total annual general-season buck deer quota for each unit is met or exceeded.

The DWR is also proposing the following dates for the 2021 general-season deer hunts:

  • Archery: Aug. 21 to Sept. 17.
  • Muzzleloader: Sept. 29 to Oct. 7.
  • Any weapon (early): Oct. 13-17.
  • Any weapon: Oct. 23-31.

Changes to regional deer management plans

The DWR typically revises the mule deer unit management plans from Utah’s five regions on a rotating schedule. For 2021, the deer unit plans for the southern region and southeastern region have undergone full revisions based on results from the Utah Range Trend Monitoring Project. In addition, the deer unit plans in the other three regions have also been revised to meet requirements designated in HB 125, which directs predator management in relation to a unit’s deer population objectives and current population estimates.

The DWR’s ongoing statewide deer survival study has provided new insights into the relationships between deer, habitat and predators. As part of that study, DWR biologists and other partners have been able to document the specific causes of deer deaths, as well as measure body condition annually on live deer across multiple units spread across the state.

This information has helped biologists to refine deer population models across the state and to better understand the different factors that can limit a deer population’s growth in a specific region.

As a result of the study and other feedback, DWR biologists are recommending changes to the deer population objectives for 24 of the 38 deer hunting units across the state, decreasing the statewide deer population objective from 454,100 to 403,800.

Other big game proposals

The DWR also oversees the Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit program, which allocates hunting permits to private landowners who then provide hunting opportunities to public and private hunters for a variety of wildlife species. The CWMU program in Utah has opened more than 2 million acres of private land to the public for hunting. Landowners have an incentive to keep their private range and forest lands as wildlife habitat instead of developing them.

Image of a mule deer in Utah. | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

For 2021, the DWR is recommending approving five new CWMUs, bringing the total number in Utah to 126. The DWR is recommending allocating a total of 2,872 permits for private hunts and 476 permits for public hunters on the CWMUs.

The DWR also oversees the Landowner Association program. This program provides an opportunity for landowners whose properties are located on limited-entry hunting units and provide habitat for deer, elk or pronghorn.

Depending on how much private land is enrolled in the program, the landowner can be allocated a restricted number of limited-entry permits for bull elk, buck deer or buck pronghorn on the unit where the landowner’s property is located. The DWR is recommending a total of 100 buck deer permits, one management buck deer, 64 elk and four pronghorn vouchers for Utah’s Landowner Associations for the 2021 hunting season.

Proposed changes to waterfowl hunting

The DWR is also recommending some rule changes for waterfowl hunting on two waterfowl management areas in northern Utah. The proposed changes would allow permanent blinds on the Willard Spur WMA with agency permission, require hunters to use only nontoxic ammunition when hunting at the Willard Spur WMA and create a retrieval zone around the Farmington Bay WMA rest area

How to give feedback

In order to follow health officials’ recommendations to decrease the spread of COVID-19, the public meetings for these proposals will be held online. You can view the biologists’ presentations and share your feedback about them here on the DWR website. The presentations can also be viewed on the DWR YouTube Channel, but comments can only be submitted through the forms on the DWR website.

The public comment period for each of the five Regional Advisory Council meetings and for the Utah Wildlife Board meeting opened on Nov. 3. The public comments previously submitted will be shared with the RAC and wildlife board members at each respective meeting. While members of the public can watch a livestream of each of the RAC meetings and the Utah Wildlife Board meeting, public comments will not be accepted during these electronic meetings.

The electronic meetings will be held on the following dates and times:

The following meetings have already passed but can still be viewed online:

To see more specific details about each of the regional management plans, visit the DWR website.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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