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Lynn Arave: Game sanctuaries dominated Utah in the roaring ’20s

The Roaring ’20s had more prohibition in place than just with alcohol — there were many game sanctuaries designated across the nation, including in Utah, prohibiting hunting and firearms.

Weber County was the first in Utah with its Mount Ogden Game Sanctuary in 1920. This 180-square-mile wildlife preserve stretched from Willard Peak to Weber Canyon and from the foothills east to Ogden Valley. It featured no hunting or gun-toting allowed. Signs were posted and penalties were up to $200 for violations, according to various reports in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

“Bird Sanctuary is created in East Mill Creek” was a June 5, 1920, headline in the Salt Lake Telegram newspaper. Although just 16 city blocks in size, no hunting or firearms were allowed there.

The Bear River Bird Refuge in April 2003.
The Bear River Bird Refuge in April 2003.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The city of Murray followed with its own game sanctuary between 900 East and 1300 East and between 45th South and 49th South. This sanctuary not only protected birds, but small animals and even fish, according to the Telegram of July 13, 1920.

The Telegram of June 30, 1921, reported plans for a 49,000-acre game preserve in Big Cottonwood and Mill Creek canyons. Deer and elk herds were to be added to the area. This preserve still allowed an annual deer hunt and continued as a reserve into the early 1940s.

By August of 1922, Salt Lake County declared a huge bird sanctuary, stretching from Ensign Peak on the north, across the foothills to 7500 South.

A year later, in July of 1923, Mount Timpanogos was designated as a game preserve too, with no firearms allowed. In 1931, the St. George area also considered a preserve for the Pine Valley Mountains.

Cache County established a 10,000-acre preserve for deer and elk in the summer of 1933, according to the Telegram of June 8 that year. The mountain boundaries stretched from the Logan River south to the Blacksmith Fork, as a precursor to the much smaller Hardware Ranch of today.

Some of these sanctuaries, like Weber County’s, were gone by the late 1920s. Others faded away by the late 1930s. Not only were the vast areas hard to patrol, but they let the populations of some of the more undesirable animals spike out of control. For example, in the Mount Ogden Game Sanctuary, coyotes prospered and they not only attacked henhouses more in the valley below, but rabies fears worsened too.

Mountain lions were also on the rise and attacked more cattle and sheep, even though dogs were used to keep chasing them further eastward in Weber County. Deer populations were also rising and more deer were causing problems along the foothills of Weber County each winter.

Davis, Box Elder and Morgan counties likely had a huge increase in hunters during the 1920s, since much of Weber County was off limits. Deer hunting still happened each year in most of Utah, despite the fact it was outlawed in the Mount Ogden Sanctuary. For example, in 1926, Utah deer hunting season was from Oct. 20-30.

This same time period — the mid-1920s — was also when the grizzly bear was pretty much wiped out along the Wasatch Front. The legendary "Old Ephraim" in Logan Canyon was killed by a sheepherder in 1923 and the last grizzly in the Mount Nebo area was taken out in the 1920s.

In the end, regular annual hunting seasons for deer and other animals were established as the rule of the land, instead of having vast game preserves.

The exceptions were the establishment of bird refuges along the shores of the Great Salt Lake and other water sources, with limited annual hunting seasons for ducks and other waterfowl. For example, the Bear River Bay was declared a bird sanctuary in June 1925.