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SALT LAKE CITY — The number of animals illegally killed in Utah rose 13% in 2019 compared to the previous year, according to data released by Utah wildlife officials Monday.
In all, 1,050 animals were poached during 2019 and the value of that wildlife was listed at more than $386,000, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reported. The agency reported 927 animals illegally killed in 2018.
Officials aren't quite sure why there was an uptick in illegally killed animals last year, DWR Sgt. Chad Bettridge explained. He said it’s a number that fluctuates from year to year.
“Poaching is always a problem in Utah. It’s something that our officers spend a lot of time investigating and dealing with. I think 2019 was a fairly busy year for our officers,” he said.
The average cost per animal in 2019 — about $369 — was lower than the $586 per animal statistic in 2018. Wildlife officials say that’s because not all animals have the same monetary value in Utah’s law code.
The most expensive animal in Utah’s code is a trophy bighorn desert or rocky mountain sheep, which is valued at $30,000 per animal. The lowest penalty is $5 for any protected animal not listed in the code.
Fish, which are broken into two categories, accounted for many of Utah’s 2019 cases. There were about 280 non-trophy fish and about 270 trophy fish (such as trout) that were illegally caught in 2019, according to Bettridge. Every trophy fish is valued at $25.
Deer and elk accounted for most of the large animal cases. Bettridge said there were about 150 deer and nearly 100 elk illegally killed in 2019; trophy deer and elk are both valued at $8,000 apiece in Utah.
Bettridge added there were also 17 antelope and four moose killed throughout the year.
While the number of animals killed rose from 2018 to 2019, the number of citations for wanton destruction dropped from 611 to 526. The number of violations detected by conservation officers also dropped from 3,963 to 3,525 between the two years. However, Bettridge said that might be because there were several open positions within the agency and thus fewer officers in the field compared to the previous year.
Wildlife officials have spent plenty of time trying to educate the public about poaching over the last few months. In October, they said 102 large animals were illegally killed from Aug. 1 through Oct. 13 alone. With the new year underway, Bettridge advised hunters to know Utah’s rules and laws before heading outdoors.
“It does fall on the responsibility of the person engaging in the activity to know the rules,” he said. “We try to get them out as much as possible. You can download an app on your phone to have access to the rules. If someone’s going to go turkey hunting or fishing or whatever, there are specific rules to that activity that if they were to get a guidebook and read through, that would be really helpful, keep them out of trouble, and also help them be good witnesses to people disregarding the rules.”
There are a few ways to report poaching cases in Utah. DWR has an online portal to report poaching. People can also call 1-800-662-3337 to reach the agency's 24-hour, 365-day hotline.