Wildlife Board Takes Steps to Increase Deer and Elk Population

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While it appears Utah's big game herds made it through the winter in good shape, there's still work to do to bring deer and elk to numbers called for in the state's management plans, members of the Utah Wildlife Board learned at their April 29 meeting in Salt Lake City.

To help increase the number of deer and elk in Utah, board members approved reductions in the number of doe deer and cow elk hunting permits available this fall. A total of 2,155 doe deer permits will be available, compared to 3,605 in 2003. Most of the doe deer permits are for areas where deer damage agricultural crops each year or where rangelands are not able to support large numbers of deer.

Cow elk permits were reduced even more. A total of 6,802 cow elk permits will be available, compared to 10,952 last year.

The board also approved a total of 222 doe pronghorn antelope permits. Most of those permits are two-doe permits that will allow holders to take two doe pronghorn off the Plateau unit in south-central Utah, where the pronghorn herds are over the population objective for the unit.

A total of 23 cow moose permits also will be available.

Applications for 2004 Utah antlerless permits will be available by May 25. Applications must be received no later than June 21 to be entered in the draw for permits. Draw results will be available by July 29.

Update on Utah's deer, elk, pronghorn and moose herds

Division of Wildlife Resources biologists are still conducting spring surveys to learn how many animals died this winter, but it appears Utah's deer, elk, pronghorn and moose herds made it through the past few months in good shape.

"It doesn't appear there was any major winter loss," said Jim Karpowitz, big game coordinator for the DWR. "The winter was fairly severe from Salt Lake City to Brigham City, but it was pretty mild everywhere else."

Right now, Karpowitz is hoping for rain. "Big game animals will be giving birth to and caring for fawns and calves during the next few months, and good precipitation is important in providing them the forage they need," he said. "What the weather does over the next few months will play a big role in determining how well the herds do this year."

Karpowitz says the total number of deer observed statewide by DWR biologists after last fall's hunting season was down about five percent from the number observed after the fall 2002 seasons. He said drought conditions are the biggest reason. "The number of fawns that have been born and have survived to adulthood has been dropping since 1998, but a wet spring last year allowed fawn numbers to rebound," he said. "We're hoping to see even more fawns this year."

Drought is also one of the reasons elk populations have declined from an estimated 60,595 elk after the 2002 hunting seasons to an estimated 58,025 after last year's seasons. Elk herds have been intentionally reduced during the last several years to relieve drought-impacted rangelands.

"We've offered quite a few cow elk permits over the past few years, to try and get elk herds to a point where the habitat could sustain them," Karpowitz said. "Fortunately, forage conditions improved last spring, and we're seeing some good green-up again this year. We feel we can start building the elk herds gradually again. This year's cow elk permit reduction is the first step in doing that."

While deer and elk numbers are down slightly, pronghorn on the Plateau unit in south-central Utah are doing well. "Right now the herds are above objective for the unit," Karpowitz said. "Increased doe hunting, and transplanting animals from the unit to other pronghorn units, are two ways to reduce the number of animals and bring them back within objective."

Karpowitz says the state's moose herds also are doing well, although a few animals have died during the hot summers the past few years. "Moose in Utah are at the extreme south end of their range, and the hot weather can negatively affect them," he said.