SALT LAKE CITY — State wildlife officials announced last week a handful of proposed waterfowl hunting changes that align with a new law that went into effect this month and results from a recent hunting survey.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials say the proposed changes, which were first announced Wednesday, could help reduce crowding at state-owned waterfowl management areas and improve the hunting experience.
The changes proposed are:
- Banning guided hunting at all DWR waterfowl management areas
- Creating a permit process to allow guides to use waterfowl management areas to access non-DWR lands for guided hunting
- Banning the construction of new permanent blinds on DWR wildlife management areas
- Adjustments to when dogs can be used, and shot types and firearms use on the Utah Lake Wetland Preserve, including a requirement that hunters use non-lead ammunition
- Adding Duchesne County to the Uintah County Hunt Area for sandhill cranes
The Utah Wildlife Board will vote on the proposed changes on June 3.
In a video posted online by the DWR last week, Blair Stringham, the division's migratory game bird program coordinator, explained that many of the proposals were made through the passage of HB295, which went into effect along with many other Utah bills last week.
Bans on commercial guided hunts with a permit and the construction of new permanent hunting blinds in waterfowl management areas were among the stipulations of the bill.
In addition, the division sent out a survey to hunters last month about guided hunting and their opinions about restrictions, prohibitions or any other thoughts about the issue. They found that nearly two-thirds of hunters surveyed opposed the idea of guided hunting on waterfowl management areas compared to just 13% who supported it, according to the DWR. The remaining 23% had no opinion about them.
After looking at comments and other data, overcrowding emerged as a major concern hunters had, Stringham said. That was in addition to an overall feeling that there was a "loss of overall public hunting opportunities" on waterfowl management areas, which were created for people looking to hunt ducks, geese and waterfowl who otherwise couldn't since a lot of the opportunities were on private land.
"What we found was there was a lot of concern about crowding on our WMAs already, and people felt like that could be complicated with guiding on our properties," he said in the video. "It also feels like guides are using specific areas during periods of time, which is causing some conflicts with them as they are out hunting."
He added that division officials have noticed guided tours in the same spots on a daily basis during hunting seasons, which he said "has impacts on habitats, has impacts on the infrastructure of the WMAs and the wildlife using those areas."
DWR officials looked into the possibility of still allowing some guided hunting on the waterfowl management areas. However, the survey results showed a lack of support from Utah hunters, which resulted in the proposal to ban the practice at waterfowl management areas.
Waterfowl management areas include Farmington Bay, Ogden Bay and Willard Spur along the wetlands by the Great Salt Lake. Stringham said the proposal to create a permit to allow guided hunting tours to go through management areas to reach private land to hunt was made in an effort to still make guided waterfowl hunting possible.
Stringham also said in the video that the proposed changes for Utah Lake Wetland Preserve were in an effort to make the hunting rules there more consistent with the rest of the state.
Finally, he said the new sandhill crane hunting opportunity was added to account for more sandhill cranes flocking to Duchesne County in addition to Uintah County, which is where permits were already allowed. Under the proposal, there would be a Uintah Basin hunt that would begin Oct. 2 and conclude Nov. 30.
The proposal wouldn't lead to a new number of permits issued or a longer season, but it would give hunters more spaces to hunt the species in eastern Utah.
All public comments on the proposal, which can be made through the division's website, must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on May 27. The wildlife board's meeting is slated for 9 a.m. June 3.
The board will also vote on a plan to allow for a hybrid livestream and in-person public meeting structure for meetings in the future. The board has met through video teleconference only for the past year due to COVID-19 concerns.