February marks the end of most hunting seasons and the time when Utah and Idaho’s legislatures pass laws. While federal laws can affect hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities, states are the primary rule maker in this venue. This means it is important to pay attention to what legal sideboards states provide to outdoor enthusiasts.
One proposed Utah bill is small but could have a widespread effect on hunters and anglers. It would allow some licenses, permits and tags for fish and wildlife to be issued in either paper or electronic form. Currently only physical licenses are allowed. Oregon is initiating such a program this year and research there found most people preferred a paper licenses because of their concern with getting a ticket due to technology failure. My prognostication is over the next few years, these concerns will be ameliorated and most people will shift to electronic licenses and tags. The adoption of this approach would practically eliminate one of the most common wildlife tickets, forgetting your license at home, as most people rarely go anywhere without their phone.
Another proposed Utah bill would discount hunting and fishing licenses sold to disabled veterans. Such a law is already in place in Idaho (and other states) and seems like a good approach to show gratitude for military service.
Utah has several bills intended to affect water use. One bill (Senate Bill 52) would require water districts to meter secondary water in pressurized systems by 2030. Metering would allow water districts and irrigators to better understand how and where water is being utilized. Utah’s House Bill 143 would require water districts to develop conservation plans that would move homeowners toward using 175 gallons per person per day rather than the over 250 gallons they currently use. If these bills turn into laws they could play an important role in House Concurrent Resolution 10’s desire to maintain water levels in the Great Salt Lake.
Both Utah and Idaho have proposed bills, Utah HB 179 and Idaho HB 104, which could affect roads used by anglers, hunters and off-highway vehicles. Both bills make it more difficult for federal land managers or other entities to close small dirt roads. The Idaho law would require federal management agencies to coordinate with the state when closing roads. Utah’s law would fine people or federal agencies that close some of these smaller roads.
Since part of my daytime job with the Forest Service is tracking road issues, I can say with certainty that no topic causes more public excitement than a decision to open or close a road. Like most people, I get frustrated with how federal road decisions are made and defended. At the same time, I am thankful that the processes of politics and legal challenges are how we solve federal land access problems. This process allows citizens to try to influence the final decision. The alternative would be for the roads to be in private hands and the owner alone would determine who could use the road.
Last summer’s closure of a Forest Service road north of Boise by a private land owner is a prime example of what could happen if neither the state nor the federal government were involved. This road provides access to thousands of acres of public land. In retrospect, there is likely a public easement on this road, so it will remain open. To reduce the chance that these types of closures would happen in the future, Idaho’s Senate Bill 1089 was introduced to make it a finable offense to post a road, land or streams as private when it is not.
To end on a positive note, Utah House Concurrent Resolution 4 is titled “Supporting Every Kid Outdoors Initiative.” Goals listed within this resolution includes a desire for kids to observe nature and wildlife in Utah, to explore Utah’s parks, public lands and wild places; to experience “The Greatest Snow on Earth”; to splash in Utah’s rivers, lakes and streams; to play on Utah’s rocks and mountains and be stewards of Utah’s outdoor places. Given the number of bills that have been in front of Utah’s and Idaho’s legislature over the last decade that pull people in opposite directions, it is nice to see at least one resolution that all people should be able to get behind. It will still be hard to get my kids to trade their electronic devices for a fishing rod, shotgun, rifle, motorcycle, skis or a snowboard, but if this resolution passes, at least I can say the state made me do it.