SALT LAKE CITY — The outdoors are a good place for social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but state wildlife authorities are reminding Utahns to not trespass in wildlife management areas to get away from it all.
Their message Wednesday comes after 17 people were cited for trespassing on five different management lands in northern Utah over the past weekend, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokeswoman Faith Heaton Jolley said.
Of the 17 citations:
- Seven people were cited for trespassing at Henefer-Echo Wildlife Management Area in Henefer, Summit County
- Four were cited at Ogden Bay Wildlife Management Area in Hooper, Weber County
- Three were cited at Millville Face Wildlife Management Area in Logan
- Two were cited at Middle Fork Wildlife Management Area in Huntsville, Weber County
- One person was cited at the Public Shooting Grounds Wildlife Management Area near Corinne, Box Elder County
Jolley said all of the areas where people were cited had signage indicating those wildlife areas were closed off to the public.
As health officials have urged Americans to isolate themselves to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, outdoor areas have become havens for social distancing. Just last week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt ordered federal land management agencies to waive entrance fees to allow for greater outdoor access. The wave of people heading outdoors also led to long lines for people trying to get into Utah state parks, such as Antelope Island.
While outdoor social distancing is an option for Utahns, the pandemic comes at a crucial period each year for some wildlife in the state. That’s why the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources closes some of its wildlife management areas around this time of the year.
"With the recommended social distancing guidelines due to the coronavirus, I think the need that people feel to get outside and away from others is higher than ever; but please remember that spring is a critical time for wildlife," DWR Lt. David Beveridge said in a prepared statement. "It’s important that you obey the closures and not put wildlife at risk by stressing them."
For example, we’re currently in the middle of an important time for mule deer, the agency’s regional wildlife manager Jim Christensen explained. As temperatures warm up, the state’s mule deer switch from eating brush and twigs to green grasses. It takes time for a deer’s digestive system to adjust to that switch. People can startle the creatures and it may lead to serious consequences for the deer.
"For many of the deer, the added stress people put on them is all it will take to kill them," Christensen said in a prepared statement. Many management areas are closed through April 11 to protect deer.
Spring is also an important season for many of Utah’s waterfowl. Some are migrating back to the state for nesting after the winter and others are making their way to more northern places on the continent. State wildlife biologists also urge people to not bother the birds during this process; many waterfowl management areas are closed through Aug. 1 for this reason.
Not all of the state’s wildlife management areas are closed off at this time. The DWR has information on what’s opened and closed on its website.
"We usually tell people to check the signs or our website before they go," Jolley said. "There’s always signage if it’s closed."