We support DWR antler hunting ban, habitat work and OHV limitations, as part of protecting treasured wildlife

 

3-2-2017

 

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has a big job. As outlined in various wildlife management plans, that job includes protecting, propagating, conserving and distributing wildlife populations in Utah.

Because human activity can have a huge impact on wildlife, we all have a role in helping the DWR do its job.

That’s why we support DWR’s temporary ban on antler gathering, along with public-private partnerships to protect and improve wildlife habitat, and, yes, common-sense limitations on off-highway vehicles (OHVs).

Managing wildlife, primarily deer and elk, is a complicated thing. DWR has divided the state into 30 wildlife units. By putting radio collars on a random sample of animals, the agency estimates the number of deer and elk in each unit and continually updates the estimates.

Then, based on biology, DWR figures out how many deer and elk each unit can sustain. Hearings are held to get public input before final population targets are set.

From there, DWR regulates hunting with the twin goals of offering a good experience for hunters while working toward the population targets.

Meanwhile, the agency works to stem trends that are deteriorating the wildlife habitat, such as sagebrush and cheat grass taking over rangeland that formerly had a variety of shrubs, and conifers taking over aspen forests.

Since 2005, DWR, with partners such as federal agencies, private owners and nonprofit organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, has treated more than 650,000 acres. Projects have included pinyon-juniper removal, controlled burns, reseeding after wildfires, conifer thinning and even leaving water guzzlers out in the wilds for use by cattle as well as deer, elk and other species.

The numbers tell the tale of DWR’s success. In the nation as a whole, wildlife populations are declining. For instance, according to Deer Friendly, a research program at the University of Pennsylvania, from 2013 to 2014, the deer population in the United States dropped by 33 million.

In Utah, the deer population today is, indeed, lower than 50 years ago. But since 1994, when DWR capped deer hunting licenses to stop decline of the herd, the deer population has grown an average of 1.6 percent per year. In 2013, it stood at about 355,000. The long-term permanent objective, which DWR wants to achieve by 2019, is 425,000.

In March, 2013, Justin Shannon, big game manager for DWR, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Utah’s deer herds are the in the best shape they’ve been in since the early 1990s.”

Meanwhile, the estimated statewide elk population is 81,000, which is above the permanent target of about 71,000. That’s up from 18,000 in 1975. (Notably, elk populations are not above unit-specific targets on all wildlife units.)

The biggest threats to deer and elk are habitat changes and harsh winter weather. The motivation behind the antler gathering ban was weather. Because of cold and deep snow, deer and elk are having a tough time finding food. The animals are under stress.

As DWR director Greg Sheehan explained, “They cannot sustain being repeatedly moved around by shed hunters looking for antlers.”

He went a step further. “Do no approach, pick up, chase or handle wildlife,” he advised. “Even if you’re trying to help, it’s dangerous for the animals.”

In all seasons, one of the biggest issues DWR and other natural resource agencies are facing is OHVs.

The DWR mule deer management plan says, “Uncontrolled use of motorized vehicles and OHVs can cause damage to mule deer habitat and disturbance to mule deer during critical phases of their life cycle” (mainly mating and fawning).

The DWR, and state and federal land management agencies acknowledge the role OHVs play in giving people access to the beauties of the back country and even their role in hunting. But we support them in closing OHV routes or banning travel in areas where OHVs might damage wildlife.

Wildlife is a wondrous thing. More than 100,000 Utahns per year participate in deer and elk hunts. Many others go into the back country to view and photograph wildlife.

If we want these treasured experiences to continue to be available to our children and grandchildren, we need to support our Utah wildlife managers in protecting, managing and propagating wildlife.