House Bill 125 is one of the predator wildlife management bills moving through this year’s legislative agenda. House Bill 125 expands the use of hunting predators to manage ungulate herds such as elk and deer.
House Bill 125, sponsored by Republican Carl Albrecht from Richfield, would mandate Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Managers immediately issue hunting tags on bear, cougar and coyote when herd numbers drop too low. He says Utah has been famous for its healthy deer and elk herds until recently. He says some hunting units may never revive the deer and elk herds back to the target levels. He acknowledges that habitat is a critical factor in maintaining populations."
We’ve done a lot of watershed restoration projects in this state. We have plenty of winter habitat. What we need to have is some more controlled burns on the summer rage because our forests are in sad shape. So, I'm saying yeah, we need to do some work with habitat, but we’ve got a problem right now where deer numbers are low, and predators are high, and we've got to balance that out.”
Western Wildlife Conservancy Executive Director Kirk Robinson says it’s a terrible bill because it takes wildlife management decisions out of the hands of the DWR. He believes the sportsmen’s organizations are putting political pressure on the legislators. He says there are many organizations opposed to it.
“Several organizations are working on this including the Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club, Utah chapter. Another group called Voices of Wildlife and yet another one, Yellowstone to Uinta’s Connection and my understanding is the backcountry hunters and anglers are opposed to this bill and League of Women Voters, League of conservation voters. We all recognize it's a terrible bill.”
Robinson points to the Hurley study done in south eastern Idaho which found eliminating predators showed no measurable increase in deer populations. In fact, Robinson says biologists now realize how critical predators are to the ecological balance of wildland habitat.
“I don’t mean any offense to those people but most of them don't know much about ecology. It's not their job to know very much about it. They have to learn so much about so many bills in such a hurry. It's very difficult. We're doing our best to try to educate them.”
Albrecht says DWR biologists use collaring technology to determine how animals die whether from starvation or a predation. They use GPS to locate female elk and deer in the early spring and they’re able to determine what is taking the fawns and calves.
“The bears--they used to think that a calf or a fawn was born with a special scent which protected them from predators. Well that's not the case. A bear can smell for miles and he comes in and he takes the neonatal which forces the cougar to go kill another deer.”
Albrecht says under his bill, DWR managers can use their discretion to determine how many additional predator permits would be needed to bring a herd back to targeted populations.
HB 125 passed on a floor vote in the House. It awaits scheduling in the Senate Natural Resources committee next.
Bills can be followed on the le.utah.gov website under the calendar tab.