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HYRUM — State wildlife officials say two "major" changes are coming to camping areas near a popular 14,000-acre wildlife management area in Cache County.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources on Tuesday announced that camping there is now limited to five sites, with a newly defined camping season at Hardware Wildlife Management Area.
Camping will be permitted at the Wapiti, Baxter-Rock Creek and Baxter-Rock Creek Livestock area beginning the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, which happens to be May 26 this year. The Hardware Flats camp area and the hunting season camp areas by state Route 101 will be available at the start of August every year. All five sites will then close on Dec. 31 every year.
Crews have posted signs in the area advising visitors of the changes.
Though the main purpose of a wildlife management area is to offer vital habitats for Utah's wildlife, camping was allowed in most parts of the area at most times of the year before this year's changes.
Brad Hunt, Hardware's manager, explained that spring camping has been allowed, but it was often muddy as the snow melts, making the land — and natural habitat area — prone to damage, which can affect the deer, elk and other animals that depend upon the land. At the same time, he said, the number of people coming into the wildlife management area to camp has "dramatically" increased over the past decade, making any habitat damage more likely, particularly in the spring.
The changes were made in an effort to reduce any impacts on the habitat.
"It takes time for habitat to dry to the point that vehicles can travel on it without leaving ruts and damaging the vegetation. Waiting until Memorial Day weekend to start the camping season on three of the camp areas will give the ground a chance to dry out so it isn't as susceptible to damage," he said, noting that the Hardware Flats camping area opens in August because the higher elevation means it needs more time for the ground to dry out.
The S.R. 101 site opens in August, too, as the hunting season begins.
"While we would like to provide recreational opportunities on our (wildlife management areas), these properties were purchased for the benefit of wildlife and wildlife habitat," he added. "Restricting camping until the areas dry out — and limiting camping to the established camping areas and time frames — should allow visitors to have a good time camping without damaging the habitat the (management area) was purchased to protect."
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources operates nearly 200 wildlife management areas all across Utah that seek to provide "critical habitats for wildlife" while also mitigating wildlife from impacting private properties, according to the agency. They're also popular hunting and fishing grounds, as those activities help fund the management area program.
Hardware isn't the only Utah management area to change its camping policies because of growing human interaction concerns in recent years. Wildlife managers banned overnight camping at the nearby East Fork Little Bear River Wildlife Management Area last year over ongoing "misuse" by campers.