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Earlier this month, the elk hunt opened and with it came reports that more than 30,000 hunters would be afield over two weeks and that they would likely kill some 2,200 elk.

A few days later it was pointed out that more than 20,000 waterfowl hunters would be out opening day, taking aim at significant number of ducks and geese.And here, last week, the state went into its hunter-orange mode as nearly 200,000 deer hunters left home and moved into the mountains with the understanding that at least 60,000 of them would have deer by quitting time.

That's a lot of hunters doing a lot of shooting in a short time. And, on first impressions, not doing a whole lot more.

Once, maybe twice a year for most, these hunting Utahns grab their guns, a box of shells, a dozen eggs, a couple cans of beans and a bright-orange hat, and go out to shoot up the mountains.

When anything that moved isn't moving, they put on the hat, step on the bean cans and go home. End of hunt? Yes! End of story? No!

Credit, please, these sportsmen for what game there is in the state.

Without these hunters it's safe to speculate that most of Utah's wildlife would be somewhere between the bald eagle and the black-footed ferret on the endangered list.

Wildlife is here because someone pays the bills. Even being wild isn't free these days, and it's the sportsmen who are picking up most of the tab. About 93 percent, in fact.

About 70 percent of Utahns enjoy or center their recreation on wildlife. They watch, take pictures, take tours, listen to lectures, and some hunt. But, only 23.3 percent (the percent of Utah's population that hunts) pay the 93 cents of every dollar it costs to have wildlife around.

Elk, moose, buffalo, bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain goats, antelope, and even pheasants are here because hunter's dollars paid to get them here.

It's safe to say that without sportsman's dollars - contributed through license sales, buying hunting supplies and cash donations - Utah's deer would be pushed down to panhandle on Main Street come January each year.

Sportsman's money has purchased more than 300,000 acres of land for deer to winter on. It's called critical deer winter range. Or, the last stronghold of food and space that hasn't been developed into luxury homes or spacious condos.

Consider, too, what it costs to keep landowners reasonably happy. Last year the Division of Wildlife Resources, with sportsman's money, paid farmers and landowners over $150,000 for damages done by deer and elk. Not much, true, but better than nothing. What could happen if it wasn't paid? A few years back a farmer on the shores of Bear Lake shot nearly 200 deer over a few weeks' time because they were in his alfalfa. All very legal.

Along with the winter range, the DWR controls another 100,000 acres in marshes for ducks, and lands for education and public use. Again, all paid for with hunting and fishing dollars.

In all, the DWR controls about 130 wildlife management areas, ranging from cattail marshes for ducks, to sagebrush slopes for deer, to watering holes for antelope, to ponds for fish, to a center for hunter education and safety training.

Without the funding and the interest in developing wildlife shown by sportsmen, it's doubtful very much of this would available.

Who would have come up with the thousands of dollars it took to introduce elk, sheep, goats, or the other animals to Utah? More, yet, who would have put in the time to bring them here? Also, who would have paid the millions it has taken to purchase the little bit of winter range deer and elk now have? Or, who would have paid to put up deer-proof fences to protect farmer's interests? Who would have shelled out the necessary funds to keep access _ for hunters and non-hunters _ to such wildlife-alive areas as Tabby Mountain, Strawberry Valley, Currant Creek, to mention just a few?

The latest survey, taken back in 1985, says that there are 387,000 Utahns that either fish or hunt, all this in a state that in '85 held 1.08 million people . . . and it's this 36 percent that use a small part of the resources that are paying the biggest share of the support.