Bonanza Flats deal triggers discussion about hunting | ParkRecord.com

Bonanza Flats deal triggers discussion about hunting

Wasatch County worries a ban could lead to wildlife problems

Park City's expected acquisition of Bonanza Flats, a large swath of land in Wasatch County, will likely trigger a discussion about hunting on the acreage and the broader issue of wildlife management on the high-altitude piece of ground.

Wildlife only sometimes is mentioned in Bonanza Flats discussions in Park City, usually in the context of an acknowledgement that the land provides habitat for a range of animals. Hunting is hardly ever broached in Park City during talks about Bonanza Flats, though. But the topics were briefly touched on during an important Wasatch County Council meeting recently. Mayor Jack Thomas led a City Hall delegation to Heber City to introduce the Bonanza Flats acquisition to leaders in the county where the land is located.

It was a cordial meeting with only limited progress on issues. The meeting likely offered a preview of some of the topics that will be of consequence to Wasatch County during later discussions. The related issues of wildlife and hunting were mentioned by the Wasatch County side during the meeting. Moose, elk and deer are among the species that populate Bonanza Flats.

In an interview afterward, Mike Davis, the Wasatch County manager, said the Bonanza Flats landowners over the years granted permission to hunt on the acreage. Bonanza Flats is part of a collection of tracts of land in the vicinity of each other where hunting has traditionally been allowed, he said.

Park City, however, has long prohibited hunting on land that it owns. City Hall over the years has acquired vast acreage in places like Round Valley, which stretches outward from the edge of Park Meadows, for conservation purposes. The municipal government has opened the land to recreation lovers, and many of the grounds are popular with hikers, bicyclists, cross-country skiers and snowshoers. City Hall bans hunting on the land. The issue has been most notable in Round Valley, where there are occasional reports to the Park City Police Department of hunters on the land. If an officer finds a hunter, they are usually warned that the practice is prohibited.

The situation in Bonanza Flats could be more complicated. The Wasatch County manager describes a case in that county unrelated to Bonanza Flats that he sees as having similarities with the land City Hall intends to acquire. According to Davis, a development called Wolf Creek Ranch initially allowed hunting on the land with some restrictions. Landowners there eventually abolished hunting for a time. Within several years, trees started dying as a result of an overpopulation of elk, he said. Davis said elk are migratory animals that consume vegetation as they move. They did not move from Wolf Creek Ranch, though, he said, adding that the elk "ate all the trees."

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"We don't want the same scenario," Davis said about Bonanza Flats. "We don't want to kill the forest."

Davis also said an overpopulation of elk could damage lands that adjoin Bonanza Flats not under the ownership of City Hall. He said wildlife, over time, will move to areas where hunting is prohibited.

"All we're asking is they consider management of these issues. We don't consider management not doing anything," Davis said.

The recent meeting between the Wasatch County Council and the Park City delegation was introductory in nature and was scheduled as the fundraising efforts continued for a Bonanza Flats acquisition. Park City in January reached a $38 million deal with the landowner, a firm called Redus, LLC, for the 1,350 acres of Bonanza Flats. Redus, LLC took control of the land as a result of foreclosure case against the Talisker corporate family.

Park City voters in November approved a $25 million ballot measure to fund a Bonanza Flats acquisition and others have pledged funds to the effort, including $5.75 million from Summit County.

Heinrich Deters, the trails and open space manager at City Hall and one of the members of the Park City delegation that appeared in Wasatch County, said studies of the land are planned in the spring, summer, fall and winter. He said City Hall staffers anticipate discussing the uses that will be allowed in Bonanza Flats with the mayor and Park City Council later. Hunting will likely be part of those talks, he said. Deters also said hunting could be addressed as leaders craft a document known as a conservation easement, which will outline the protections that will be put on the land.

Deters noted the City Hall prohibitions on hunting on land owned by the municipal government for conservation purposes that is located outside the Park City limits. He cited Round Valley as an example. Deters also conceded there are contrasts between Round Valley and Bonanza Flats.

"This one's very different, very, very different than Round Valley," he said.

The mayor and City Council on Thursday are scheduled to address a Bonanza Flats issue unrelated to hunting or the recent meeting with the Wasatch County officials. The elected officials will consider a $1.5 million option payment to Redus, LLC, the second such option payment. The option would extend the closing date until June 15.