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The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is hoping a decade-long program of donating poached or euthanized game meat can offset economic difficulties associated with COVID-19.

“There’s roughly 150 to 200 animals, euthanized animals, that are donated statewide, every year,” said DWR spokesperson Faith Heaton Jolly.

According to a press release, the program was started to reduce conflicts between farmers and ranchers in rural areas.

“Wildlife, such as elk and deer, can cause property damage and economic hardship to ranchers and farmers by grazing on their hay fields or crops,” read the statement. “When these conflicts occur within town limits, on private land or outside of a hunting season, hunters aren’t in a position to legally harvest these animals.”

While the program originally offered a relocation option as opposed to euthanizing the problem animals, this practice was halted in 2019 due to growing concerns of Chronic Wasting Disease infecting local wildlife.

Now, Jolly said the program’s purpose is two-fold: to prevent food waste after animals are euthanized or poached animals have been seized, and to help individuals who may be struggling from food insecurity by donating a field-dressed animal.

Of the 21 Cache County residents who signed up to receive donations from the DWR, just over half received an animal in 2019.

Separate from, but in conjunction with, the statewide program launched in 2014, local municipalities have the option of participating in the DWR’s urban deer program — basically the same thing as the statewide project, but administered within city boundaries and at the city’s discretion.

But several local officials have questioned the efficacy of the city-operated program.

North Logan and Hyde Park had previously been involved, but did not renew the contract when it expired last year, according to North Park Police Department’s Chief of Police Ulysses Black.

“It all started because the population of deer became very uncontrollable down in the city,” Black said. “We’ve kind of moved into their territory, right? So it’s just a matter of taking a look at the program and making decisions moving forward, as to what it looks like and if we continue to participate.”

Mendon City is looking at a similar decision when its contract with DWR expires at the end of the year.

According to the councilmember who oversees the city’s deer and turkey management, only one resident has utilized the program for the past three years it’s been managed by the city.

“I don’t know if we’ll sign up again because there just hasn’t been the interest,” Greg Taylor said. “It took us quite a while to get this going, you know, writing up the program and whatever, but it will be determined later this fall.”

Jolley said even if residents don’t sign up with the city, or if their city does not have an urban deer control program, DWR is accepting applicants at a first-come, first-serve basis for one animal per year on its website or the local DWR office.

Having the animal processed or butchered and storing the meat, such as in a freezer, is the recipients’ responsibility.

In 2019, the Ogden office — which covers Cache County — distributed 38 animals, and 12 came to the county.

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