Open Letter to Utah Deer Hunters

Open Letter to Utah Deer Hunters
By Jim Karpowitz
Director, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Mule Deer
Jim Karpowitz, director of the Division of Wildlife Resources, has written a letter to Utah's deer hunters. Photo by Brent Stettler
Utah Division of Natural Resources
Utah Division of Natural Resources

Utah –-( Since the end of the deer hunt, I have received numerous e-mails from sportsmen who are concerned about the condition of the deer herd in Utah.

For many sportsmen, this proved to be a difficult deer hunt.

Our checking stations also suggest that success was down in many areas of the state. The weather was not good, and the hunt was short, but this does not fully explain the lack of deer observed by many hunters.

As an avid deer hunter myself, I want all of you to know that I understand your concerns, and I share your frustrations that deer hunting is not better in Utah. From both a personal and a professional perspective, I would like to see better deer hunting in Utah.

We are working very hard at the DWR to make sure we are doing everything we can to improve our deer herd and to improve deer hunting. It has been and continues to be a top priority for the Division. We have a comprehensive deer management plan that lays out a path to improve deer populations. Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in the last five years to implement the deer plan and to help our struggling deer herd. We will continue to focus whatever resources and personnel we have to improve our deer populations around the state.

We can certainly do more, but what we have done in recent years is both significant and noteworthy. I would like to take just a minute to review some of the things that have been done and that we will continue to do to help our deer herd.

  1. Habitat — We are conducting the most massive effort to restore mule deer habitat conditions ever undertaken in Utah, or in the West. In the last five years, the Division, along with its many partners, has improved mule deer habitat on more than 600,000 acres at a cost of more than $70 million. Habitat improvement projects often take a few years before they begin to pay off, but I am confident that in the long term they will result in healthier deer populations throughout the state. Our deer management plan has an objective to improve another 500,000 acres of habitat in the next five years.
  2. Predators — The Division recognizes that coyotes and other predators can cause significant mortality, especially among mule deer fawns, and that predator control is an important part of a deer management program. In the last five years, the Division has provided almost $3 million to Wildlife Services to control coyotes in areas that are important to our deer populations. Last year alone, Wildlife Services killed more than 1,700 coyotes in critical deer habitat areas with funding and guidance provided by the Division. The Division would like to expand our predator control efforts if we can obtain new funding.
  3. Highway Mortality — Deer-auto collisions are responsible for the death of thousands of deer annually. We are working closely with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to reduce highway mortality, and we appreciate their cooperation in addressing this serious issue. In the past five years, UDOT has spent more than $45 million on fencing and highway bypass structures around the state for both mule deer and elk. The Division is also providing funding to Utah State University for a study to further identify the most effective types of highway bypass structures for both deer and elk.
  4. Poaching — The Division has stepped up our law enforcement efforts and put more resources into catching poachers who steal many deer from Utah sportsmen each year. Several high-profile arrests have recently been made of poachers who have unlawfully killed multiple deer. Information we receive from sportsmen, alerting us to illegal activity, has been a key to our law enforcement success.
  5. Disease — Diseases can cause significant mortality in deer populations. The Division has expended more than $1 million in the last five years in the surveillance and research of chronic wasting disease and other diseases that affect mule deer.
  6. Research — The Division has initiated numerous research projects in recent years to better understand the factors that are negatively affecting our mule deer populations. Last winter, the Division embarked on an extensive statewide radio telemetry study to better understand over-winter survival of both does and fawns. Hundreds of deer will be collared over the next few years—at an expense of more than $1 million—in order to gain better information about deer survival rates. The Division is also planning a comprehensive productivity study that will focus on the impacts of predators on mule deer fawns.
  7. Emergency Feeding — The Division has an emergency winter feeding policy for deer should unusually severe conditions arise that warrant supplemental feeding. Even though feeding deer is both expensive and labor intensive, the Division has resources set aside for emergency situations. In 2008, the Division, in concert with several sportsman organizations, fed more than 14,000 deer in the Northern Region at a cost of more than $228,000.

There are several meetings scheduled over the next few days that should be of interest to sportsmen. On Thursday, December 2, the Wildlife Board will decide how we will hunt mule deer bucks for the next several years. While hunting and buck harvest is a very important social consideration, it has very little to do with increasing overall deer numbers. Having a few more bucks in the post-season population will have virtually no effect on deer herd productivity or total deer numbers.

The more important part of that meeting will occur on Wednesday, December 1, when the Division will discuss with the Board how we can improve and increase deer populations throughout the state.

Beginning at 1 p.m. on December 1, the Division will discuss the issues listed above as well as any other issues related to mule deer population management. We invite any of the public who would like to attend this meeting to come and listen to what is being done for mule deer and what we can do better. We have also been working to have this meeting streamed via the Internet so you can listen on your home computer. The meeting will also be recorded and posted on our website, along with the PowerPoint presentations, so you can get the information at a later time. I hope all of the sportsmen of Utah will take the time to either listen to the meeting live or to the recording of the meeting.

There is also a “deer forum” being sponsored by KFAN radio on Tuesday, November 30. This forum will discuss the same issues that will be talked about at the Board meeting on December 1. The Division will be in attendance at the forum to answer questions from sportsmen about how we can help our struggling deer population. The Division will not be at the forum to discuss deer hunt strategies—that will be the topic of the Wildlife Board meeting scheduled for December 2.

In conclusion, we appreciate your interest and concern about deer in Utah. We want you to know that we are working diligently to improve the condition of our deer herd. I invite you to be a part of the important meetings scheduled for next week. If you want to know what is currently being done, or to discuss what needs to be done to improve our deer herds, I invite you to attend or listen to the Wildlife Board meeting on December 1. If your main concern is how we will be hunting bucks in the future, then I hope you will attend the Board meeting on December 2.

Thanks for your time and your continued support of Utah’s wildlife.

Jim Karpowitz
Director, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources