Washington City • What is causing Utah's mule-deer populations to decline was a question considered here on Wednesday during a work meeting of the Utah Wildlife Board.
The board did not take any action, but issues concerning the state's deer population, which has been in decline for 35 years, were discussed.
In December the board voted to cut permits for the 2012 hunting season by more than 13,000 in an attempt to increase the animal's numbers and also decided to fracture the current five hunting regions in the state into 29 units, hoping managing the herds in the smaller units will cater better to the individual needs of herds.
Biologists told the board there could be a number of reasons for the decline, including winter conditions, predation and an estimated 3,000 mule deer a year being killed on state highways. One board member said poaching also should be looked at, though it hasn't been a problem in recent years.
Biologist Anis Anoude, state wildlife program coordinator, said several hundred deer with radio collars could help the Division of Wildlife Resources determine causes for the declining numbers.
Members also discussed changing rules concerning the cougar hunting season to compensate for losses to the cat's predation.
Anoude said that changing the cougar hunt would probably only increase herds one to two percent.
DWR director and board member Jim Karpowitz said that during the recent Legislature at least five representatives complained that cutting permits reduced hunting opportunities in Utah.
Board member Keele Johnson, from San Juan County, said that fewer permits are necessary to rebuild the state's herd, which was the most important objective.
"No matter what we do, half the people agree and the other half are mad," Johnson said.
Board members suggested the Utah Department of Transportation implement a program similar to a successful one in Colorado that uses flashing lights and signage, along with reduced speed limits, to prevent road kills. Such measures could be used on stretches of U.S. Highway 6 and Interstate 70 to alert motorists of a high likelihood of deer in the area.
Board member Ernie Perkins suggested that sportsmen in Utah form a group to lobby the Legislature to compel UDOT to invest more in fencing and structures for safe passage of the animals getting across highways.
Anoude said while the idea was interesting, a better approach might be to have any features protecting deer from highways incorporated into new roads or redesign plans.
He also said that through the years the DWR has cultivated a positive but fragile relationship with UDOT in a cooperative effort to protect wildlife, and he was not sure a new lobbying effort would be as effective.
Overall, the board praised UDOT for trying to use structures and fencing to keep deer off the highways.
"They're [UDOT] doing a marvelous job," said Johnson.
Listen to the meeting
To listen to the full proceedings of the meeting, the public can hear it today or Friday at http://wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/board-minutes.html.