Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
FARMINGTON — Elk hunting permits, which have become a hot item the past two years, will continue to be sold over the counter next year after a strong pushback to a proposal to move the permits to a lottery format.
The Utah Wildlife Board on Thursday voted unanimously against a test proposal that would have required hunters to enter a drawing for the permits instead of buying each individual permit.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources last month proposed a one-year trial pilot program where hunters seeking to get an elk hunting permit would apply and a drawing would determine the hunting permit winners. Lindy Varney, the division's licensing coordinator, said at the time it was an idea to address the soaring popularity of elk hunting permits.
This year's 17,500 elk hunting permits sold out in 10 hours; last year's permits also sold out within a day. That's compared to 11 days in 2019 and 36 days in 2018. Varney said the increased popularity led to the division's ticket sales system because so many people were coming to the website where permits are sold.
"The competition for these permits has created a panic and that created an overload to the sale system. ... We have seen multiple people on multiple devices and browsers all hitting the system simultaneously, which leads to slow processing times and more frustration," she said.
In 2020, about 90% of hunters who gained a permit went out in the field to hunt, according to the agency's data. The percentage this year is still being tabulated; however, the 2020 data show most of the people buying permits end up hunting and aren't buying permits for the sake of buying one.
But most of the feedback the division received was negative, according to Justin Shirley, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. He said 120 of 148 comments either "strongly or somewhat" disagreed with the idea.
Hunters wrote that the hunt was one of the last over-the-counter permits opportunities in the state and argued the division should fix the website instead. Some feared the division would never go back if it went to a draw or said it was a "money grab" by the division, Shirley said, reading off some of the comments. The idea also failed through all of the state's various Regional Advisory Councils, which Utah Wildlife Board Chairman Kevin Albrecht noted is rare.
Kevin Norman, representing the group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said the organization had "half-hearted" support for the division's plan until they attended the various RAC meetings last month.
"We kind of changed our stance a little bit and we're now not in support of the one-year trial," he told the board. "We want to see it an over-the-counter hunt mainly because it's kind of the last family opportunity hunt, and we'd like to see it stay that way."
During Thursday's meeting, Varney said that the division would continue to work with their vending contractor to address the technical issues that emerged this past year, including the possibility of expanding its database to "increase performance."
Division officials added that they believe moving to Amazon Web Services will provide a "six-fold increase in performance." The changes are expected either by the end of this year or in January and the next elk permit will be its biggest test.
However, Varney warned that likely wouldn't solve the issue that the division is facing ahead of the 2022 elk hunt. That, she reminded the board, is more of a "supply and demand issue."
"Even if we had the money into upgrading everything and having the most robust system out there, all that would do is make these permits sell out quicker," she said. "There are only 17,500 of these permits and we have well more than that of hunters wanting these permits. The only way we can fix it is if we increase supply or put these into a draw where we can distribute them equally and equitably."
Those in opposition to the DWR plan argued that moving both hunts to an unlimited number would solve a problem of "panic buying," which they said is the issue.
After debating the issue and option for a draw and possibly making hunts unlimited, the board settled on neither — making no major changes to the permit structure in the meeting. That, they argued, would provide more time for experts to research the issue and find a solution that works for everyone.
The board also approved a few new hunts for the 2022 season:
- A new late-season, limited-entry muzzleloader deer hunt in the Myton Unit from Nov. 12 to Nov. 27. The hunt will be held mostly only on private property to help control the spread of chronic wasting disease in this area by targeting mature bucks.
- An extended archery deer hunt in the Box Elder, West Bear River Unit from Sept. 17 to Nov. 30. The hunt would also primarily be held on private lands but to help alleviate depredation issues.
- A pronghorn muzzleloader hunt in the Vernal Unit from Sept. 28 to Oct. 6. The area is considered to have a growing population of pronghorn and already offers an archery and rifle hunt. The muzzleloader hunt would expand the weapon-type opportunities, officials said.