It’s again time to review what the Utah and Idaho legislative sessions are considering that could affect fish, wildlife or the hunters and anglers that pursue them.
The proposed law that would have the greatest effect on hunters in Utah is HB 295. This bill could alter the use of game cameras and makes it illegal to use bait when hunting deer or elk. I touched on these concerns in an article several months ago and strongly support these changes. Baiting deer has always been an anathema to me as it doesn’t promote fair chase.
Furthermore, there is no historic precedence for using bait for mule deer and elk. It seems this technique gained popularity through hunting shows that are attempting to increase success, simplify filming, and pay bills through sponsorships by companies that sell bait. The use of bait when pursuing ungulates is already illegal in most western states. Utah would be wise to follow this path.
The current version of HB 295 delegates rule making authority on the use of trail cameras to the Wildlife Board. The rapid proliferation of these devices in the field suggests that if this activity isn’t regulated, there will be cameras on most heavily used wild game paths. I supported an earlier version of this bill which would have allowed cameras to only be deployed prior to the hunting season but recognize there are other options that may work. One possibility would be to limit their use within a quarter mile of a waterhole or spring. A second option is to treat the use of cameras like fishing rods; you only get two of them and must be involved with their placement and use.
A bill already signed into law that has a tangential effect on hunters in Utah is eliminating the requirement that people over 21 get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. I’m a bit conflicted about this change. I have a concealed firearm permit and thought the few hours of required training was a good refresher of Utah’s self defense laws. Getting this permit also mandates a background check. Surprisingly, this step does catch a few fools that applied for these permits even though they were not allowed to possess a gun in Utah (e.g., convicted felon). Given the low violent crime rate in this state, it is unlikely this change will be noticeable. That said, Utah still needs to find workable solutions to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and people who are suicidal.
One trend I have seen across the West are more laws that give an increased preference to residents. The last several years have seen Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming substantially raise the cost of non-resident big game tags. Idaho also reduced the number of non-resident tags and New Mexico is considering following their lead next year. These changes are understandable given the population increases in our region. With more people moving into these states, the only way to provide more resident tags is to provide fewer to non-residents.
This bias against non-residents isn’t limited to hunting and fishing. Utah’s annual State Park pass cost $150 for non-residents and $100 for residents. Idaho’s legislature has outlined a similar strategy for their state park fees next year. Utah added a $20 non-resident Aquatic Invasive Permit requirement for out-of-state boats. Other western states already have similar rules. Given the increased use of parks during the pandemic, this strategy will address increased demand and improve funding for the agencies that operate these systems. At the same time, it will make it more costly and difficult to recreate out of state.
Utah once again has a statement resolution (HCR 12). It asks President Biden to work with the state in decisions regarding National Monuments. It is easy for both sides of this issue to get hung up on the language in the resolution, but if the goal is truly, “the state desires to find a collaborative, broadly supported, and long-term solution to the question of national monuments in Utah, specifically Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments” then everybody should get behind this effort. The difficult calculus in such a compromise, however, will be acknowledging the state’s, local community’s and the tribe’s role in developing a place-based solution while accepting that these lands belong to everyone in the United States.
The lack of bills related to hunting and fishing in the 2021 legislative sessions in Utah and Idaho is a nice surprise. Given last year’s upheaval, a bit of consistency is something to look forward to.