SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's banner year for outdoors participation wasn't just reserved for state parks last year.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials said Thursday that they saw a spike in sales of hunting and fishing licenses from March 2020 through the end of Feb. 28, 2021, compared to the same timespan the previous year. It broke all sorts of sales records.
"This was the most licenses we have sold in one year, by far," said Phil Gray, the DWR's wildlife licensing coordinator, in a statement.
In all, the agency sold about 708,272 licenses from March 1 through Feb 28. These include hunting, fishing and combination licenses, which all license holders to both fish and hunt in the state. The total was nearly a 29% increase from the same timeframe the previous year; division officials said the agency typically sees 2% increases.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesperson Faith Heaton Jolley said last year's total resulted in a little more than $24 million in revenues.
The division sold 222,124 combination licenses over the year span compared to 183,358 over the one-year span that ended in February 2020. It also sold 417,883 fishing licenses and 68,265 hunting licenses. Combined, those totals were well over 100,000 more than the previous year.
There was also a growth in new people applying for licenses. The agency reported that 167,000 licenses were sold to first-time customers, compared to 121,000 in 2019.
"Hunting and fishing are definitely a great way to experience the outdoors and Utah's wildlife, and we are glad so many people were able to enjoy these activities during such a difficult year," Gray added.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the division to make some changes in how it issues licenses. For example, deer and elk hunting permits were sold exclusively online for the first time ever in 2020. Other permits were also shifted online.
The boost in hunting and fishing license sales is a plus for conservation because wildlife projects are primarily funded by revenue from permit and equipment sales.
"Any time you buy a fishing or hunting license, you are helping conserve wildlife in Utah," Gray said. "That funding is used for projects like improving habitat for our various fish and wildlife species in the state, so that everyone can continue enjoying them for years to come."
The division's announcement comes weeks after the Utah Division of State Parks, which is also under the Department of Natural Resources' umbrella, reported a record number of visitations at state parks in 2020. It estimated that about 10.6 million people visited Utah's 44 state parks last year, which was a 33% increase from 2019.
While national parks attendance was down in 2020, it also spiked at the end of the year showing the power of outdoors interest during the pandemic. Preliminary National Park Service data shows that the interest hasn't died off either. Early 2021 data show Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef state parks were all on pace for new visitation records this year.