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Gov. Gary Herbert signed two bills on Saturday that take aim at coyotes by funding programs to step up the killing of the predators in an attempt to increase the population of mule deer and protect livestock.
The governor used the backdrop of bow and arrow maker Hoyt Archery west of the Salt Lake City International Airport and a friendly crowd of employees and hunters to sign SB245 and SB87. The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the bills during the recently concluded general session of the Utah Legislature.
The Mule Deer Protection Act, SB245, appropriated $500,000 to the Division of Wildlife Resources to establish programs to reduce the coyote population in areas where the mule deer herds have suffered significant population losses over the past few decades. SB87 imposes a $5 fee on big-game hunting permits to go toward predator-control programs.
Herbert touted the measures as important for Utah's economic growth, citing hunting, fishing and wildlife watching as a $2.3 billion part of the state's economy.
"What we're talking about today is really important for our economy going forward," he told the crowd that gave him a standing ovation.
Bob Friel, a hunter from Mapleton who attended the signing ceremony, said the bills were needed to help bring back the state's mule deer population, which would attract more hunters and boost Utah's economy. More deer mean more licenses sold and more hunters spending money on things like meals at restaurants, he said.
"This is an economic issue for the state of Utah," Friel said.
The Humane Society of Utah had opposed the bills. Director Gene Baierschmidt said Saturday another part of the legislation, raising the bounty from $20 to $50 for bringing in a pair of coyote ears, is a poor method of reducing predator populations.
"We think it's ridiculous to send the public out there to do that," he said. "For example, if someone is living in St. George and they go and they bring back a bunch of ears of coyotes, there might not even be a problem in that area."
Jay Banta of Torrey, a hunter, biologist and former federal wildlife manager, said the "misnamed 'Mule Deer Protection Act' is simply throwing money at a solution for a reduced deer herd that won't work."
"There are plenty of well-conducted, peer-review wildlife studies of the impacts of coyote control on deer herds that show it just does not accomplish anything close to what proponents contend it will," he said in an email. "When the best scientifically valid studies show this does not work, why would we 'throw good money after bad?' "
Rural legislators who attended the bill signing spoke nostalgically of the 1960s when mule deer were plentiful and tens of thousands more hunters streamed in to hunt them.
Rep. Kay L. McIff, R-Richfield, also cited a case of what he said was a rancher who recently lost 30 lambs to coyotes.
"This is a targeted bill it targets fawning areas," McIff said. "It targets the areas where lambs go after birth. It's designed not to eradicate but to control. We can live side by side with Wile E. Coyote at some level but not the level that now exists."
Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, praised Herbert and said the bills would be effective at increasing the size of deer herds.
"We've done a lot of habitat work, highway work; we'd done the research; we've done the studies," he said. "This will be the last thing that makes us go from a declining deer herd to one of the best deer herds in the world."