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    Utah wildlife board OKs decrease in deer hunts

    DWR: Statewide deer population has dropped by 57,000 animals

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    The Utah Wildlife Board approved a decrease in the number of general-season permits for the 2020 deer hunt during an April 29 virtual board meeting, according to a statement form the board.

    Bull Elk
    An elk stands perfectly still for this wildlife photo. The Utah Wildlife Board has reduced permits for both elk and deer for 2020 hunts. Photo courtesy of Jim Shuler/DWR

    The current mule deer unit management plans have an objective of 18-20 bucks per 100 does on 18 general-season hunting units and an objective of 15-17 bucks per 100 does on the other 11 general-season hunting units. In order to manage toward these objectives, the Utah Wildlife Board approved a total of 79,675 general-season permits for the 2020 deer hunt, a decrease of 10,225 permits from 2019. Nineteen of the 29 general-season hunting units will have decreased permits, with no changes on the other units.

    “In 2019, the statewide deer population estimate decreased by approximately 57,000 animals to a total of just over 319,000 deer,” DWR Big Game Coordinator Covy Jones said. “This decrease was primarily due to drought conditions in the spring, summer and fall of 2018, followed by a heavy winter in 2019. Deer populations in areas of the southern and northern parts of the state showed the most loss, with central Utah populations showing the least impact.”

    The wildlife board also approved a decrease in antlerless deer permits for the 2020 hunting season. The removal of 1,045 antlerless deer permits leaves a total of 1,175 permits for the upcoming season. A new antlerless deer hunt in 2020 was also approved to help address chronic wasting disease concerns, while 11 other antlerless deer hunts were discontinued.

    “Antlerless deer hunts are designed to reduce depredation on private lands, tackle urban deer issues, address chronic wasting disease hotspots and help slow the decline of range conditions,” Jones said.

    Statewide, elk populations also decreased slightly in 2019, so the wildlife board approved a decrease in antlerless elk permits, as well. The statewide elk population objective is 78,215, and currently there is a statewide estimate of 76,550 elk. The wildlife board approved 8,165 antlerless elk permits for the 2020 public drawing, a decrease of 1,470 from 2019.

    Plan for implementing recently approved H.B. 125 predator bill

    Also presented in the April 30 board meeting was a plan for DWR to implement a new, recently approved law. H.B. 125, which became law during the 2020 legislative session, authorizes the DWR director to take immediate action (under certain conditions) when a big game population is under the established herd-size objective for a management unit.

    As a result of the new legislation, DWR biologists will draft management strategies to decrease the number of specific predator species in certain parts of the state, if deemed necessary. The predator species that prey on big game populations, such as deer and elk, include cougars, bears and coyotes.

    New data from GPS collars helps DWR biologists determine the cause of death for many species. When the biologists determine that predators are preventing the growth of big game populations, the big game populations are under their management objectives, and several other conditions are met, the predator-management strategies will be implemented.

    “Predator control may allow a suppressed, low-density deer population to increase,” DWR Game Mammals Coordinator Darren DeBloois said. “These predator-management strategies will only be considered when bighorn sheep populations are under 90% of their management objectives and/or have fewer than 125 individuals in a herd, when a deer population is being suppressed by predators, and when large population declines for big game occur or are anticipated.”

    Changes after recently approved H.B. 228 livestock depredation bill

    H.B. 228, which was also recently passed during the 2020 legislative session, added a few clarifications to when and how a predator that is killing or damaging livestock can be removed. The DWR will update its current rules for bear and cougar depredation to reflect the following changes:

    The 72-hour response period following a livestock depredation incident will be changed to 96 hours. The bear rule will be updated to allow depredation permits for the removal of bears involved in chronic losses of livestock.

    Other proposals

    The Utah Wildlife Board also approved a rule change that will allow over-the-counter bison permits to be sold, and for this type of hunt to be held in southeastern Utah on the Nine Mile, Range Creek Unit, beginning in the fall of 2020. Several hundred bison migrate to this area each year, and there was previously no management plan for the Nine Mile, Range Creek Unit.

    The wildlife board also approved a few changes to the rule regarding Cooperative Wildlife Management Units. The changes clarify that a CWMU that falls within a general-season unit will be managed more like a limited-entry unit. It also allows reciprocal antlerless hunts across multiple CWMUs and removes the limit on how many leftover reciprocal permits could be donated to charitable organizations. The total number of CWMU permits decreased from 2019 for a total of 1,205.

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