2 bills seek more hunting, fishing opportunities for Utah youth

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SALT LAKE CITY — The House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee unanimously reccomended two bills for House approval on Thursday that would expand hunting and fishing opportunities for young Utahns.

Historically, Utah residents had to be at least 12 years old to hunt small game, such as grouse or pheasants. That age requirement was eliminated by a bill in 2011 for all areas of the state except commercial hunting areas — places where hunters can pay to pursue pen-raised birds.

Currently, Utahns younger than 14 can hunt as long as they complete a hunter education course and are accompanied by an adult.

Referred to by bill sponsor Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, as a "cleanup bill," HB106 removes the age restriction for commercial hunting areas, applying the same regulations as other parts of the state.

The bill also allows youths to hunt on commercial hunting areas through the state's Trial Hunting Program, which gives Utahns a chance to try hunting before taking a hunter education course. Youths younger than 14 must be accompanied by an adult, and other individuals participating in the program must be accompanied by an adult mentor.

The bill does not affect Utah's current age restriction for big game hunters, who must be at least 16.

Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, asked whether removing the age restriction has caused an increase in hunting-related accidents and fatalities.

Robin Cahoon, a legislative liaison for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said such incidents have occurred since the age restriction was lifted, but the new regulations haven't altered normal trends.

"There have been instances where there have been hunting accidents involving youth, but that was not something that was new to the sport of hunting when that change was made," Cahoon said. "There have been incidents involving youth on and off."

Since Utah adopted a hunter education program in 1957, hunting accidents involving youth have fallen by 97 percent, according to an incident report from DWR.

Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, raises the age exemption for Utahns having to purchase a fishing license for group activities. DWR has permitted kids younger than 14 to fish without a license during official school or youth organization activities led by an adult with a valid fishing license. HB125 raises that age limit to 16 years.

David Willis, a Utah Boy Scout leader, said the rule has been beneficial for most of the boys who attend activities, but there are some 14- and 15-year-old Scouts who are not able to participate in the same way.

"This bill will help a lot of young boys that still come on campouts," said Willis, who added that many of them can't yet afford to buy a fishing license themselves.

While DWR has recently reduced prices for fishing licenses to $5 for 12- and 13-year-olds and $16 for youth ages 14 through 17, Cahoon said she hopes the bill will pass and enable more people to gain appreciation for the sport.

"Our hope is they'll go out and have a good experience in their activities with their youth groups and then decide they want to do that all of the time outside of these official activities and purchase licenses," she said. Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com Twitter: MorganEJacobsen; DNewsPolitics

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