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In a four to three vote, the Utah Wildlife Board imposed new rules last week restricting the use trail cameras for big game hunting in the state.

The rule bans the use of any trail camera used to harvest or attempt to harvest big game from July 31 to Dec. 31. The rule is in effect on public and private property.

“This new rule does not apply to government or educational organizations gathering wildlife information, private landowners who are monitoring their property for trespass or active agricultural operations, or to cities involved in the Urban Deer Program,” wrote the DWR in a statement Tuesday night.

Agriculture operations can use trail cameras for monitoring nuisance or depredating animals. Recreational trail camera users will also not be affected.

The rule change is similar to trail camera regulations in Nevada that impose something of a trail camera season. In a more heavy handed move, the State of Arizona recently banned the used of trail cameras year round for the purpose of hunting wildlife.

The new rules fulfill an obligation imposed by HB 295. Sponsored by House District 5’s Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, the bill required the Utah Wildlife Board to create rules regulating trail cameras — though a choice to avoid regulating trail cameras at all was possible.

According to a statement from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the bill resulted in the division conducting two surveys of 14,000 big game hunters in the state requesting feedback on various proposals including trail camera regulation. The survey results indicated the majority opposed using cameras for hunting that transmit images and footage in real time, and the initial proposal from the DWR mirrored the public’s input.

The DWR recommended that regulations be specifically placed on “transmitting” trail cameras used for purpose of harvesting big game animals. During the final months of 2021, the recommendations and survey data were presented to the five Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) through out the state. Each RAC then voted on their recommendation for the rule change.

Three RACs voted in favor of the DWR’s recommendation, while two councils — including the Northern RAC, which includes Cache Valley — voted for a more more strenuous Nevada-style regulation. At several meetings, council members debated the rule’s enforceability though conservation officers indicated the challenges of enforcement weren’t out of the ordinary.

Faith Heaton Jolley, public information officer for the DWR, told The Herald Journal the division had no data specific to trail cameras’ impact on hunters’ ability to harvest animals. During Tuesday’s meeting, board member Wade Heaton made a motion for the DWR to investigate all technologies and how they relate to hunter effectiveness. Jolley said the new committee and public surveys would likely take a year to conceive.

Though there is no specific data, Jolley said DWR wildlife biologists believe cameras do aid hunters. If the cameras didn’t help, Jolley said, hunters simply wouldn’t spend money and time on the expensive technology. Jolley explained the issues surrounding trail cameras are more social than biological – the use of trail cameras deals largely with the ethics of fair chase as opposed to quantifiable impacts on big game herds.

“That’s why this is so heated,” Jolley said.

Members of the public spoke to the effects of trail cameras on hunting at recent RAC meetings. One man said a young relative of his monitored big game from his smartphone while in school; when an image of an animal was captured by his transmitting trail camera, he asked his mom to excuse him from class and proceeded to harvest the animal. Other individuals spoke to hunters placing trail cameras near tampered ranch equipment (water ducts, mineral licks, etc.) to draw in big game animals.

Some spoke against the trail camera recommendations at the RAC meetings — one council member of the Southern RAC voted against the rule change to avoid excessive regulation — while others voiced their opposition online.

“We as hunters have become very selfish, and want our cake and eat it too,” said one man at the board meeting on Tuesday.

The man argued trail cameras put animals at a severe disadvantage and said he was in favor of more strict regulations.

“There’s not a 200 inch deer anywhere in the state that doesn’t have 10,000 pictures of it, isn’t named, isn’t documented,” the man said. “The element of surprise is just disappearing.”

In addition to the new rule, the board also voted on other big game hunting restrictions including the sale or purchase of trail camera footage or data to hunt big game and night vision devices.

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