Wildlife Board makes controversial rule change in a tie-breaking vote
The Utah Wildlife Board, in a contentious rule change, voted to ban wildlife cameras during most of the state's hunting season.
The seven-member Utah Wildlife Board provides recommendations to the Department of Wildlife Resources on rule changes. It was a split vote, three to three, when Chairman Kevin Albrecht cast the deciding vote to ban video, wildlife location data, heat, or motion-triggered devices. DWR Law Enforcement Chief Wyatt Bubak said the proposed rule changes followed a standard procedure.
“There are five regions in the state of Utah. There is a regional advisory council that kind of speaks for the sportsmans and the public in general within each region. Those regional advisory councils will then present their thoughts to the wildlife board and ultimately the wildlife board will make a decision on how they want to regulate the given topic. In this case, the wildlife board was presented with a number of things, one of which probably the most contentious being the use of trail cameras for the take of big game. Ultimately, it was decided that there'd be a season date placed on the use of trail cameras making it unlawful to use trail cameras from July 31 to December 31 if those trail cameras are being used for the taking of big game, ultimately Cougar and bear."
The ban also prohibits using conventional cameras, selling camera footage for hunting, and using night vision technology. Bubak said the trail camera ban applies to public and private lands. Some exceptions exist for farmers and ranchers who may use video, cameras, or data to monitor livestock.
"Probably some of the largest confusion that comes from this is if you're a recreational user that that's not a hunter that's just using trail cameras to look at wildlife or whatever it may be, a researcher, that aren't tied to hunting wildlife, specifically big game, Cougar and bear. There are no regulations placed on those actions."
Sixty-seven percent of the survey respondents favor banning wireless, transmitting tracking cameras for hunting big game. Bubak said most hunters don't use trail cameras, but the DWR is working on language to prevent getting around the new rule.
"Roughly half to two-thirds of our population that hunts still don't even use trail cameras even though they're hunters. When they are used, they're commonly used for scouting or attempting to locate big game. The reason that we included Cougar and bear was because there would be a pretty significant loophole that would allow the placement of cameras for cougar and bear that could also capture pictures of big game."
Trail-cam use in Utah has been a contentious issue for a long time. Last year the Utah Legislature passed a bill directing the Wildlife Board to consider the matter. Bubak said hunters and conservationists are concerned that the new technology creates an unfair advantage for the hunter.
In 2018, criminal charges against a Park City couple for stealing hunting equipment included a trail camera. Bubak urged people to contact DWR if they see a camera or think someone uses it for hunting big game illegally. He said land agencies have different rules about the use of trail cameras.
"If you believe the cameras on the landscape, and you think that that camera is being used by a hunter for the purposes of locating big game, cougars or bear during that closure. But let us know. Let us look into it. But don't subject yourself to potential criminal issues by taking it into your own hands, removing and or destroying that camera ."
The governor's office will sign off on the wording of the rule change, and it will post to rules.utah.gov where for 30 days, the public can comment. DWR Board Coordinator Stacy Coons said the public has an opportunity to request another public hearing on the rule change. However, one of three criteria is needed to trigger another hearing and vote by the Wildlife Board.
"If I receive ten emails from interested parties that request an additional public hearing, then I'm required to put one together. Or, if I receive a request from another state agency that will trigger a separate public comment meeting, or if I receive a request from an association with at least ten members."
When the public input period ends, Utah will join Arizona, Nevada, and Montana with bans on trail cameras for tracking, hunting, or selling data for such purposes.