It is once again time for the Utah and Idaho legislatures to be in session. Every year’s session brings with it bills that could affect outdoor pursuits. This is again true in 2020.
In Utah, the primary bill affecting hunters is one that intends to reduce the number of predators (House Bill 125). This bill defines predators as coyotes, bears, and cougars. It requires the Division of Wildlife Resources to increase predator harvest in big game hunt units not meeting their deer population objectives if it is determined predators play a significant role in this failure.
This is not the first time in recent history the legislature has involved itself with predator control. In 2012, two bills were passed, one that added $5 to deer tags and a second that used this funding for a coyote bounty. The result has been that if you shoot a coyote in Utah and follow the rules, you can receive $50. The stated goal of this bounty, much like the current effort, was to increase deer populations. So, before the state starts adding more predator control legislation it might be nice if it evaluated this earlier effort first.
To do this I took the state harvest records for coyotes and related this to how well a unit was meeting its deer management objectives. Given the goal of predator control, more coyotes harvested should increase the chance a deer hunt unit would meet its population target. When I conducted that analysis (since all this information is available on-line), I found no relationship. An example of this is the Box Elder hunt unit. This unit is where the most coyotes were harvested but remains way below its population targets for mule deer. My cursory analysis supports what can be found in the literature for Utah and Southeast Idaho, that deer numbers don’t increase following high coyote harvest.
Some might ask, what about cougars? A study which included the area around Malad, Idaho, showed little improvement in deer populations following high cougar harvest. This was because any signal that could be attributed to predators control disappeared following a bad winter.
The most obvious problem for deer has been the loss of high-quality habitat, especially during the winter. This is combined with management goals for most deer units being static since 1995. These herd goals have stayed the same despite the human population in Utah growing by 50% and the amount of traffic on the state’s roads doubling in that time period. Both these changes have posed a bigger risk to deer that predators.
A second bill of interest to hunters and anglers is HB 197. If this bill passes it would preclude individuals who are behind in paying child support from purchasing hunting or fishing licenses. Generally, I don’t like threatening individuals with the loss of hunting privileges for any reason other than a hunting violation. The fiscal analysis of this bill suggest it could keep over 6000 hunters and anglers from buying licenses. This would cost the state nearly $440,000 as a result of fewer license sales and less federal matching money based on those sales. My quick calculations suggest perhaps as many as 1 in 80 current hunters or anglers may be in arrears in paying child support. Given this, I have to agree that if you don’t have enough money to take care of your kids, you probably shouldn’t be spending it on hunting or fishing.
There is also a big change in front of the Idaho legislature; this is a law that would lead to a substantial increase in the cost of non-resident hunting licenses and tags. This increase will be especially noticeable by non-residents who hunt with their younger (≤17 years old) sons and daughters. These youth licenses have been very cheap, but this will no longer be true. Fee increases range from 10% for a non-resident annual fishing license to 800% for a junior deer tag. If you are from out-of-state, it is easy to complain about these increases.
But to give credit to the state of Idaho, they based these changes on a survey of resident hunters. Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states so there are more resident hunters every year. These residents wanted to reduce crowds, which they thought was best solved by reducing the number of non-resident hunters. Increasing the cost of tags while also reducing their number may be a great solution – if the state is still able to sell all their non-resident licenses. Given this law will not go into effect until December of 2020, this hypothesis won’t be tested for almost a year.
If these, or any other bills bothers you, remember the best way to change them is by contacting your representative and to vote.