SALT LAKE CITY — Utah wildlife biologists are proposing for 9,175 fewer general-season deer hunting permits to be issued in 2020 as buck populations have fallen a bit in the state over the past few years.
The plan, which was unveiled last week, calls for 80,725 general-season buck permits in 2020; there were 89,900 buck permits available in 2019. It would also decrease doe deer permits from 2,220 to 1,175.
Premium limited-entry and management buck deer permits would remain the same under this proposal. There would also be a new permit category for handgun, archery, muzzleloader and shotgun limited-entry buck deer hunting in 2020, with 15 of those permits being issued. Limited-entry deer permits would rise from 1,144 to 1,229.
The proposed changes come as Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists have reported a dip in buck-to-doe ratios over the past four years, according to DWR data. That drop was preceded by buck populations rising to beyond the agency’s statewide objective; for bucks that’s defined as 15-20 bucks per 100 does. Population data is gathered at the end of each hunting season, according to Covy Jones, DWR’s big game coordinator.
"As we saw our populations grow there in 2015 and 2016, we jumped above what the management objective was," Jones said, in a video presentation. "And as we’ve seen those populations fall off, especially the last year, we’re back down into that range we’re managing for."
In addition, he said biologists like to see 60 fawns per 100 does as a way to calculate fawn production rate. The division has recorded fawn populations below that mark after the past few hunting seasons. Jones said they are currently reporting about 53 fawns per 100 does in Utah.
Overall, the state recorded a little more than 321,000 deer statewide. That’s 51,000 fewer than the previous year.
"This decrease was primarily due to drought conditions in the spring, summer and fall of 2018, followed by a heavy winter in 2019," Jones said. "Deer populations in areas of the southern, southeastern, northeastern and northern parts of the state showed the most loss."
Under the proposal, 19 of the division’s 29 hunting units in the state would have fewer general-season hunting permits. They are:
- Beaver (Southern Region): 2,100 permits (900 fewer)
- Box Elder (Northern Region): 3,700 permits (500 fewer)
- Cache (Northern Region): 5,800 permits (800 fewer)
- Chalk Creek/East Canyon/Morgan-South Rich (Northern Region): 8,100 permits (900 fewer)
- Fillmore (Southern Region): 1,200 permits (1,050 fewer)
- Kamas (Northern Region): 3,300 permits (500 fewer)
- La Sal, La Sal Mountains (Southeastern Region): 1,300 permits (300 fewer)
- Monroe (Southern Region): 900 permits (200 fewer)
- Mt. Dutton (Southern Region): 550 permits (125 fewer)
- North Slope (Northeastern Region): 2,800 permits (300 fewer)
- Ogden (Northern Region): 2,300 permits (200 fewer)
- Oquirrh-Stansbury (Central Region): 2,000 permits (1,200 fewer)
- Panguitch Lake (Southern Region): 2,200 permits (600 fewer)
- Plateau, Boulder/Kaiparowits (Southern Region): 1,200 permits (500 fewer)
- Plateau, Fishlake (Southern Region): 950 permits (150 fewer)
- Plateau, Thousand Lakes (Southern Region): 250 permits (50 fewer)
- San Juan (Southeastern Region): 2,200 permits (550 fewer)
- South Slope, Bonanza/Vernal (Northeastern Region): 1,500 permits (175 fewer)
- South Slope, Yellowstone (Northeastern Region): 1,575 permits (175 fewer)
The other 10 units would see no changes because buck populations there have remained about the same, Jones said. Those units are:
- Central Mountains, Manti/San Rafael (Southeastern Region): 8,100 permits
- Central Mountains, Nebo (Central Region): 4,100 permits
- Nine Mile (Southeastern Region): 1,650 permits
- Pine Valley (Southern Region): 4,500 permits
- Southwest Desert (Southern Region): 800 permits
- Wasatch Mountains, East (Northeastern Region): 4,250 permits
- Wasatch Mountains, West (Central Region): 8,100 permits
- West Desert, Tintic (Central Region): 900 permits
- West Desert, West (Central Region): 600 permits
- Zion (Southern Region): 3,800 permits
The Utah Wildlife Board approved a 5-year mule deer management plan in December, which called for DWR biologists to make recommendations every year on what the target deer population should be across the state, thus allowing for "more fluctuation" of buck deer hunting permits every year. The plan unveiled last week follows this guideline.
Of other big game species, the division also recommends no changes to general bull elk permits; cow elk permits would decrease from 9,635 to 8,165. Limited-entry bull elk permits would rise by 5 permits from 2,938 to 2,943. Buck pronghorn permits would rise from 1,061 to 1,147; doe pronghorn would drop from 760 to 525 permits. Bull moose permits would jump from 97 to 107, while cow moose would fall from 38 to 31. Bison permits would drop from 242 to 115.
The division would also add 10 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep ewe hunt permits that didn’t exist in 2019, should the plan be approved.
The Utah Wildlife Board is seeking public feedback and there will be a series of meetings before the proposal is voted on. Due to COVID-19 concerns, these meetings will be held online and can be streamed live on either the Department of Natural Resources YouTube page or DWR YouTube page. The schedule, according to the DWR, is:
- Central Region RAC meeting: April 7 at 6 p.m. (Public comment deadline: Saturday at 11:59 p.m.)
- Northern Region RAC meeting: April 8 at 6 p.m. (Public comment deadline: Sunday at 11:59 p.m.)
- Southern Region RAC meeting: April 14 at 5 p.m. (Public comment deadline: April 11 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Southeastern Region RAC meeting: April 15 at 6:30 p.m. (Public comment deadline: April 12 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Northeastern Region RAC meeting: April 16 at 5:30 p.m. (Public comment deadline: April 13 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Utah Wildlife Board meeting: April 30 at 9 a.m. (Public comment deadline: April 24 at 11:59 p.m.)
Public feedback on the plan can be submitted online on the division’s website.