The mild winter may not have put down the snowpack, but it did make life easier on Utah's big game animals, which is both good and bad news.
The light winter means more animals survived, but it also means that in some areas of the state the animal population exceeds carrying capacity for the state's limited winter range.
This is reflected in the Division of Wildlife Resources' 2007 antlerless hunting recommendations for this fall.
Taking female animals is the main tool biologists have to keep big game animals from increasing past the number their habitat can sustain.
This year the DWR is asking for an increase in antlerless deer, elk and moose permits. Pronghorn antelope permits would decrease by about 250 permits.
Recommended numbers will be provided by DWR biologists during five public meetings.
Regional Advisory Council representatives will take the public input and present it to the Utah Wildlife Board on April 26 in Salt Lake City.
The April 17 meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m.
The meetings will be:
Northern Region at Brigham City Community Center, 24 N. 300 West in Brigham City.
Central Region at Springville Junior High School, 165 S. 700 East in Springville.
Northeastern Region at Western Park, Room 2, 302 E. 200 South in Vernal.
Southeastern Region at John Wesley Powell Museum, 885 E. Main in Green River.
Southern Region at Snow College South Administration Building, 800 W. 200 South in Richfield.
The number of antlerless permits available in 2006, and the number the DWR is recommending for 2007, are as follows:
Doe deer — 1,080 in 2006; 1,705 in 2007
Cow elk — 4,999 in 2006; 8,031 in 2007
Cow moose — 63 in 2006; 89 in 2007
Doe pronghorn — 587 in 2006; 347 in 2007
Utah's Deer Management Plan calls for 411,300 deer after the hunting seasons are over in 2010.
To reach that goal, the plan also sets a benchmark: 320,000 deer in Utah by 2008.
DWR biologists are happy to report that the 320,000 deer benchmark has almost been reached two years early.
"Based on computer modeling we did after the 2006 hunting seasons were over, we estimate that more than 318,000 deer were in Utah last winter,"said Anis Aoude, big game coordinator for the DWR.
The DWR wants to increase the number of doe deer permits, but not for areas where most of Utah's deer are found. "We want the state's deer herds to keep growing,"Aoude added.
Instead, the DWR is recommending more permits for deer herds that live in low-elevation valleys and don't migrate. Many of these deer are causing depredation and nuisance problems. Many of these deer are problems in the areas where they live.
Hunts for these deer are usually held in August and September, before deer from other areas migrate into these low-elevation areas to spend the winter.
Utah's elk populations are also doing well.
After last fall's hunts, DWR biologists estimated the state's elk population at more than 63,800. That's less than 5,000 animals away from a statewide goal of 68,200 elk.
"Elk herds on many of the state's units are actually over the population objective for those units," Aoude said.
The DWR wants to increase cow elk permits to bring these herds back to the number their habitat can sustain.
On units where elk are approaching the population objective, taking some cow elk will help ensure the herds don't grow too fast. "If a herd overshoots its population objective, then we have to recommend a lot of cow elk permits the following year," Aoude said. "That's something we don't want to do."
Moose populations in northern Utah are also doing well. In fact, populations near Ogden are doing so well that a new cow moose hunt has been created. The DWR is recommending 10 permits for the new hunt.
"There are so many moose in northern Utah that the moose are actually starting to damage their habitat," Aoude noted. "In addition to creating the new Ogden moose unit, we're also recommending more permits for some of the other units."
Utah's largest pronghorn antelope herd lives on the Parker Mountains in southwestern Utah.
During the past two years, doe pronghorn permits have been increased to try to bring the area's pronghorn population back to its objective. Biologists have also taken pronghorns off the Parker Mountains and transplanted them to other areas in Utah and outside the state.
"Our objective is to count 1,500 pronghorns on the unit after the hunts are over,"said Aoude. "We're getting close to that objective. That's why we're recommending a decrease in doe pronghorn permits this year."
Aoude said good weather and intense habitat improvement projects over the past few years are starting to pay off.
"All of Utah's big game animals are doing really well," he added.
"Over the past few years, much of the state has enjoyed mild winters and wet springs and summers," Aoude says. "All of these conditions help animals."
Aoude said fewer animals die during a mild winter. And a wet spring provides good vegetation for does and cows.
"Good vegetation in the spring helps does and cows produce more milk for their young. That results in strong, young animals," Aoude said. "Good summer rains also provide plenty of vegetation for the fawns and calves andcalves, which helps them grow to a good size before fall and winter arrive winterarrive."
For more information about the April 17 meetings, call the nearest DWR office or the Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.