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SALT LAKE CITY — State wildlife officials said Wednesday they are proposing a nearly 5,000-permit cut to the number of general season buck deer hunting permits available this year. The proposal comes following another decrease in deer population estimates across the state.
The number of permits for other types of deer would also decrease in 2021 under the proposal, while some permits for other species like bison, bighorn sheep, elk and pronghorn would increase by some.
Under the division's proposal, which is now up for public comment, there would be a maximum of 74,775 general season buck deer permits, which is 4,900 fewer than the maximum last year. The state lowered the amount by 10,225 permits from 2019 to 2020, as well.
Covy Jones, the big game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said that the hunting permit recommendations follow trends in the state's deer population. That's something that's fallen in recent years.
The division currently estimates there are 314,850 deer in the state, which is well below the division's objective of 404,900. The state's deer population was estimated at 376,450 in 2018 but then dropped significantly to 319,150 in 2019, an estimated decline of 57,300 deer. The 2020 estimate signaled a decrease of another 3,300 deer.
These declines are why state wildlife officials are seeking fewer buck deer permits for the 2021 general hunting season.
The division made permit proposals based on trends in buck-to-doe and fawn-to-doe ratios in all of the state's hunting regions.
"When biologists set permit recommendations, biology and herd health come first. It's the first thing that we look at," Jones said, in a presentation uploaded to YouTube by wildlife officials earlier this week. "When we do that, we take into account things like habitat conditions, environmental conditions and survival rates."
Declining populations and drought
The drought conditions, which have been severe enough to prompt Gov. Spencer Cox to issue an emergency declaration, have also played a factor in declining deer populations, Jones explained. He said populations began to fall off after drought conditions emerged twice over the past three years, which then led to fewer bucks harvested during the hunting season.
That also meant less success outdoors for hunters. For instance, 43% of people who applied for a permit last year were "unsuccessful," meaning they did not end up with a buck. That was an increase from 38% in 2019 and significantly more than the 19% from a decade ago. Current projections have unsuccessful rates reaching upwards of 55% by the end of the decade, wildlife officials said.
Southern parts of the state experienced some of the worst drought conditions, which led to drops in the deer population. It's why 3,975 dropped permits in the proposal are for hunting units within those regions. That includes about 1,000 fewer permits for Panguitch Lake and 700 fewer at Zion.
Another 875 permits would be reduced from hunting units in the northeastern region of the state, the northern region would drop 300 permits, and the central region would lose another 100 permits. The Wasatch Mountain-East region was an exception, remaining at 4,250 permits.
Some other regions were better off. For instance, the division would seek about 350 more permits within the division's southeast region due to population sizes higher than the region's objectives.
Wildlife officials are also seeking changes to other deer hunting categories, which include:
- Management buck deer (such as "cactus" bucks): 45 permits (19 fewer)
- Limited-entry deer: 1,070 permits (112 fewer)
- Doe deer: 935 permits (240 fewer)
While doe hunting would decrease overall, biologists are proposing two new doe deer hunts to "address damage to agricultural areas caused by deer, as well as other urban deer issues" in the Price and Oak City areas.
Other proposed changes
The wildlife division also released permit proposals for other species this week. That includes 2,500 more general season any bull elk hunt permits and 225 more cow elk permits, bumping the former to 17,500 permits and the latter 8,285. The number of limited-entry bull elk permits would grow by 41 to 2,989, as well.
Buck pronghorn permits would increase by 26 to 1,173 permits, and doe pronghorn permits would decrease from 525 to 404 permits.
There would also be five additional bull moose permits, bumping the number to 112; in addition, there would be 16 fewer cow moose permits, dropping the total to 15 in 2021.
Bison permits would increase by 50 to 147 under the proposal.
The division is also seeking three more desert bighorn sheep permits, which would provide a total of 81 permits. The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep permit limit would be set at 67, two more than last year. The number of mountain goat permits would decrease by two to 120.
All other deer, elk, bison, pronghorn, moose or bighorn sheep hunts would remain the same number of permits from 2020 to 2021.
The Division of Wildlife Resources opened up public comment on the proposals earlier this week. Comments can be left on the division's website up until 11:59 p.m. April 22.
There will be five regional meetings over the proposal before the state wildlife board makes a final decision on the proposal April 29. All six meetings will be broadcast live through the division's YouTube page.
The schedule for the meetings is:
- Central Utah Regional Advisory Council meeting: 6 p.m. on April 6 (Public comments must be submitted by April 1 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Northern Utah Regional Advisory Council meeting: 6 p.m on April 7 (Public comments must be submitted by April 2 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Southern Utah Regional Advisory Council meeting: 6 p.m. on April 13 (Public comments must be submitted by April 8 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Southeastern Utah Regional Advisory Council meeting: 6:30 p.m. on April 14 (Public comments must be submitted by April 9 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Northeastern Utah Regional Advisory Council meeting: 6 p.m. on April 15 (Public comments must be submitted by April 9 at 11:59 p.m.)
- Utah Wildlife Board meeting: 9 a.m. on April 29 (Public comments must be submitted by April 22 at 11:59 p.m.)