A Division of Wildlife Resources proposal to modify Utah’s current elk management plan prompted nearly 90 minutes of discussion during the Regional Advisory Council meeting for the southern area of the state held virtually on Nov. 17.
“We may have received the most feedback [prior to] a meeting I’ve ever seen,” RAC chairman for the southern region Breyden Richmond said in his opening remarks.
This feedback included public comment generated from the initial announcement of proposed adjustments to Utah’s 2021 hunting season on Nov. 3 to the date of each RAC scheduled meeting.
The public comments reported from zip codes within the southern region expressed ideas and feelings in regards to all proposed changes across the state including those pertaining to waterfowl, big game and unit-by-unit mule deer plans.
However, an overwhelming proportion of these comments directly address proposed changes to Utah’s elk management plan — especially the proposal for unlimited permits on general-season any-bull units across the state.
Out of a total 78 comments reported from the southern region, 69% expressed opposition to agenda item six that encompasses all proposed adjustments to big game seasons, hunts and rules.
These adjustments included alterations to hunting unit boundaries, season dates and the addition/discontinuation of several big game hunts across the state as well as the controversial proposal to offer unlimited any-bull general-season elk permits for the coming year.
Members of the RAC committee expressed their concerns and those of the community members who commented on the recommendation for unlimited elk permits.
“I think they’re okay with the general season hunt,” Tammy Pearson, an elected official from Beaver County participating in the RAC discussions said, “but nobody’s okay with the unlimited tags.”
Covey Jones, the big-game coordinator for the DWR who addressed all proposed changes to big game hunts in a video presentation on the division’s website, added to the virtual forum by answering questions and describing rationale behind the proposed changes.
Jones discussed the desire of the Wildlife Board to offer “some type of primitive weapon hunt,” saying that this desire led to the decision to reconvene the elk committee that drafted the original seven-year elk management plan in 2015.
This committee consisted of representatives of the DWR, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Utah Farm Bureau and Brigham Young University wildlife researchers. The group reviewed age objectives across units and looked for options to increase opportunity in limited-entry and general-season any-bull hunts.
“Having that discussion with the elk committee about maintaining a general-season, over-the-counter hunt for elk in Utah was really important, “ Jones said, “maintaining that is a part of our hunting culture.”
Upon review and with the backing of wildlife biologists, the committee approved the proposal of four new general-season any-bull units as well as the issuance of unlimited permits on these and existing units under the same designation.
Members of the RAC continued expressing their concerns about the potential impacts on elk populations despite assurances from Jones that the proposal is “biologically sound.” Other concerns included the impacts on the quality of the hunt and the animals.
Several members of the RAC voiced this quality concern by inquiring about potential impacts on bull size as well as the effects on satisfaction of hunters who may find harvesting an elk more difficult due to the increase of hunters.
“There are always trade-offs in wildlife management,” Jones said to address the concerns. “You’re always swinging the pendulum between opportunity and quality.”
After the bulk of the discussion, RAC members were invited to entertain motions to adjust portions of the proposed plan. Several motions were made including a motion to maintain a cap on general-season any-bull permits at 15,000 with unlimited permits available to youth hunters.
This motion passed, but was later adjusted to a 20,000 permit cap after a separate motion that passed in a six-to-five vote.
Another motion was introduced by Cedar City resident Austin Atkinson, who was representing the public at large. This motion was to extend the general season elk dates to later in September.
The motion carried and was noted to be the result of public letters and comments. “It’s not someone on the RAC,” Chairman Richmond said of the idea that prompted the motion. “I think this is a great example of public involvement and the process at work.”
All approved motions as well as comments from RAC members who voted “no” to each one were collected to be presented by Richmond at the Wildlife Board meeting scheduled for Dec. 3.
At the upcoming board meeting, chairmen representing all five RAC committees will present regional discussion and motions on all proposed changes to the 2021 hunting season in Utah.
Public comments will also be addressed by the board and may be submitted on the DWR website until Nov. 26.
The Wildlife Board will take into consideration the proposed adjustments from each committee as well as address the public comments before making their finalized decisions on all proposals.
Central, northern and southeastern RAC committees have also held their virtual meeting with similar input on the elk management plan adjustments. Public comment for the northeastern region is closed, but the meeting can be viewed virtually on Nov. 19.