As a Park City resident, I’ve seen moose elk and mule deer. As pleasant as it is viewing these animals in our neighborhoods, most of us realize the areas in and around town are too small with far more human activity and development than is required for them to live, breed and raise young. For that they need large tracts of undisturbed land.
Utah has five world class National Parks and 45 State Parks. These Parks serve to protect unique environments from development, allowing enjoyable access and recreation for the public. However, only isolated areas of these environments are suitable for large animals to reproduce and thrive because our many recreational activities cause far too much disturbance. In addition to our national and state parks, other areas exist in Utah for large animals to thrive. Utah has 127 separate private properties set aside for the purpose of protecting and perpetuating populations of wildlife. These privately owned lands are called Cooperative Wildlife Management Units (CWMU) consisting of 2 million acres of prime wildlife habitat.
Utah’s CWMU lands range in size from less than 100 to more than 230,000 acres spanning the state from Idaho to the Arizona border. They allow limited access, little or no development and almost no entry for significant months of the year protecting wildlife during midwinter and birth of young in the spring. The very wealthy can afford to own large tracts of land at their own expense maintained primarily for wildlife. But most farmers and ranch owners cannot afford to do this. The land as their source of income must be farmed and serve as grazing for cattle and sheep.
How then is it possible for 127 private lands of over 2 million acres to exist exclusively for wildlife habitat? It is because of the Utah CWMU program that owners have financial incentive to keep their private lands undeveloped for wildlife. In brief, it works like this: With the help of Utah Wildlife Biologists, a management plan is written which acts as a contract between the landowner and the state. Hunting permits (tags), the numbers of which are determined by state wildlife biologists are allotted to the land owner. Also, private hunters pay for a limited number of tags to hunt. Public hunters are awarded "free" tags based on a state lottery system. Typical examples for a private hunter are that they pay from $5,000 to $7,000 for the right to hunt one mule deer and $7,000 to $12,000 to purchase the right to hunt one elk. The "tag fee" for each animal depends on availability and demand. This is a significant sum for the privilege to hunt one species on private land. Also, there are no guarantees. The hunter hunts one member of a species on a particular CWMU according to the specific rules of that CWMU. If no animal is taken during the time allotted (5 days for mule deer is typical), the hunter still pays the entire tag fee. All the meat, natural, grass fed, with no growth hormones is used for human consumption. To leave meat in the field and take only the trophy is illegal and subject to heavy fines. Fees paid by hunters are the monetary incentive owners have to keep land undeveloped. Without this there would be less land for large animals and therefore fewer animals.
Hunting for sport, meat for the table or both certainly is not for everyone. Whether the meat for the table is from elk, deer, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, domestic or wild, most would rather leave the killing to someone else. However, the next time you see wildlife; reflect that much of it exists only because hunters put a high monetary value on each individual animal, spending millions of dollars each year making it possible for wild places to exist where animals can thrive.
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Judy Horwitz writes in a guest editorial that Summit County voters must continue to support a vital source of funding for the area’s arts and culture institutions.