Upcoming Public Division of Wildlife Meetings

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Not allowing people to collect shed big game antlers in Utah from Jan. 1 - April 30, waiting until spring to set general buck deer permit numbers and selling all muzzleloader elk permits over-the-counter are among proposed changes for Utah's 2003 big game season that the public may provide input on at upcoming Regional Advisory Council meetings.

The Division of Wildlife Resources will also present, as an informational item only, a proposal that Utah's five general season buck deer regions be split into approximately 25 hunt areas beginning in the 2004 season. "We are not recommending this for the 2003 season, but would like to present it to the public so they can start thinking about it for 2004," said Steve Cranney, big game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources.

"Several of the Regional Advisory Councils have expressed interest in this idea in the past, so while we won't be recommending it to the Wildlife Board for the 2003 season, we would like to present some information on the issue," Cranney said. "It's important that people attend their RAC meetings this year and let their RAC representatives and the DWR know what they think about this idea."

The DWR is putting a paper together that lists all of its big game proposals. The paper should be available on the this Web site about one week before the RAC meetings begin.

RAC citizen representatives will take the public input received at the meetings to the Utah Wildlife Board when it meets Nov. 14 in Salt Lake City to approve Utah's 2003 Big Game Proclamation.

RAC meeting dates, times and locations are as follows:

Northeastern Region
Oct. 28, 7 p.m.
Vernal City Offices
447 E. Main St., Vernal

Southeastern Region
Oct. 29, 6:30 p.m.
John Wesley Powell Museum
885 E. Main St., Green River

Southern Region
Oct. 30, 7 p.m.
Beaver High School
195 E. Center St., Beaver

Central Region
Nov. 5, 6:30 p.m.
Department of Natural Resources Auditorium
1594 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City

Northern Region
Nov. 6, 6 p.m.
Brigham City Community Center
24 N. 300 W., Brigham City

Those who can't attend their RAC meeting can e-mail or fax written comments to their RAC chairperson at the following addresses and numbers:

Northern Region
Ernie Perkins
erperkins@earthlink.net, (801) 776-5818 (fax)

Central Region
Rick Woodard
rwoodard@efortress.com, (801) 785-3003 (fax)

Northeastern Region
Kathy Paulin
kmp@easilink.com, (435) 781-5142 (fax)

Southeastern Region
Dave Bierschied
canyonlandsrealty@frontiernet.net, (435) 259-7294 (fax)

Southern Region
Sam Rowley
rowleysam@hotmail.com, (435) 896-5855 (fax)

Among the big game hunting changes being proposed by the Division of Wildlife Resources for 2003 are the following:

Not allowing shed antler gathering from Jan. 1 - April 30

The DWR is proposing that the gathering of antlers shed by big game animals not be allowed in Utah from Jan. 1 - April 30.

"Shed antler gathering has grown in popularity over the past few years and some problems have come along with that," Cranney said. "In some cases, big game animals are being harassed on their winter ranges. Anytime these animals are moved around like that, it's not good for them.

"Also, some shed antler gathers are taking their all-terrain vehicles onto these ranges," he said. "The soil is very wet and saturated during this time of year and a lot of habitat is being damaged."

Waiting until spring to set general buck deer permit numbers

The DWR will also propose waiting until population surveys are conducted this winter before setting general buck deer permit numbers for fall 2003. The permit numbers would be set next spring, before the 2003 Big Game Draw is conducted.

"This is what we're doing with our limited entry units and it's worked great," Cranney said. "Waiting until spring would allow us to see how many animals made it through the winter, which would allow us to recommend the best permit numbers possible. This is especially important this year, with the severe drought the deer have been through and the winter that lies ahead."

If large numbers of deer die this winter, Cranney says the number of general season buck deer permits available in 2003 may need to be adjusted from the 97,000 statewide cap.

If permit numbers were set in the spring, hunters would apply for their region in the winter without knowing specifically how many permits would be available. "In the proclamation we would print the number of permits that were offered the year before, which would give hunters a general idea of how many permits would be offered for that fall," Cranney said.

Selling muzzleloader elk permits over-the-counter

The DWR is also proposing that the ML300 muzzleloader elk draw be eliminated and that hunters be allowed to obtain muzzleloader elk permits over-the-counter. "This would simplify the current system," Cranney said.

ML300 elk permits would be added to the any bull elk permit cap. When buying their any bull permit, hunters would indicate whether they wanted a rifle or muzzleloader permit. Any bull elk muzzleloader permits would remain hunter's choice, with hunters allowed to take either a bull elk or a cow elk on most units.

Spike bull elk permits would also become either sex permits on most units. They would remain available over-the-counter, as they are currently.

The DWR will also present the following proposal as an informational item to be considered for the 2004 season, but the RACs could ask the Wildlife Board to implement it in 2003:

Establishing additional hunt areas for general season deer

The DWR will present information about a proposal to split Utah's five general season regions into approximately 25 separate hunt areas beginning in 2004.Instead of obtaining a permit for an entire region, hunters would obtain a permit for one of the hunt areas. Cranney says splitting the state into additional hunt areas would improve management by providing more flexibility in determining hunter numbers of the units.

"Right now deer numbers in certain areas of the state are being sacrificed to the regional system," he said. "We have certain units where we can't get the number of deer to the objective of 15 bucks per 100 does because the current system doesn't allow us to control hunter pressure in those areas.

"We've tried reducing the season to five days in some areas of the state, but that hasn't worked real well," he said. "People hunt the 5-day areas hard while they're open, and then they shift and apply pressure to other areas in the region. For example, in the Southeastern Region we've had several 5-day hunts over the past two seasons and the Manti unit, which is open for the full 9-day season, has fallen below objective."

Cranney says separating the regions into smaller areas would allow individual unit deer management plan objectives to be met. This would provide more consistent buck deer management while allowing hunters to hunt full 9-day rifle seasons. "The bottom line is, hunters in Utah would see more bucks and enjoy better hunting on some of the harder hit areas," he said.

Cranney says the vast majority of hunters would not be adversely affected by the change. "Recent hunter data indicates that nearly 90 percent of rifle and muzzleloader hunters hunt one specific area during the season, so few hunters would be affected by going to a unit by unit system," he said.

One challenge to implementing the system involves Utah's Dedicated Hunter program, where participants are currently guaranteed the buck deer region of their choice.

"To prevent a large percentage of the permits in certain units from going to dedicated hunters, we'd need to look at possibly setting a percentage based dedicated hunter cap for each unit. This cap would allow a certain percent of the permits for a specific unit to go to dedicated hunters, " he said. "Dedicated hunters would draw for permits and would need to list second and third choices, in case the percent cap for their first choice unit was reached before they drew their permit.

"A unit by unit system is used by most of the surrounding states," Cranney said. "We'd like input from Utahns about whether they'd like to see it here."

For more information about the upcoming meetings call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office, or the Division's Salt Lake City office at (801) 538-4700. Contact information for all of the DWR's offices is available on this Web site.