Utah hunting laws: What wildlife, poaching bills did lawmakers pass?

Utah hunting laws: What wildlife, poaching bills did lawmakers pass?

Each year, the Utah Legislature tackles a number of hunting, fishing and sportsman-related bills.

Whether it’s a small change to hunter education courses, stiffer penalties for trespassing or a brand new hunt that Utahns can look forward to, here are 10 bills that lawmakers passed this session that have implications for the state’s wildlife.

The next step is a signature from Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

HB142 | Donation of Food

Did you shoot an elk, then realize that’s just too much meat? Thanks to a bill sponsored by Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, you may be able to donate some of the meat to a food pantry.

Hunters are currently allowed to gift the meat to someone, but not donate it to a food pantry. Ferry said his bill tackles “something a lot of us assume we can do today — unfortunately, it is not.”

The animal killed will need to meet several food safety requirements before the carcass is transported to a butcher. The butcher, not the hunter, will then make arrangements to the local food pantry, which Ferry calls “a level of separation to ensure the quality of the meat.”

The hunter will also pay the butcher fee so it doesn’t put a financial burden on the food pantry, Ferry said.

The bill will also allow anyone to donate to the program on the Division of Wildlife’s website, which will help the butchers facilitate the process.

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An elk is pictured bugling in this Sept. 13, 2017, photo.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

SB205 | Air Rifle Hunting Amendments

A bill sponsored by Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, would allow Utahns to hunt certain game with an air rifle.

SB205 would permit sportsmen to use an air rifle that packs a minimum 2,000 pounds per square inch punch — as Riley Peck with the Division of Wildlife Resources says, that’s far more powerful than you typical “backyard BB gun.”

The rest is up to the Utah Wildlife Board, which will vote on what animals can be harvested.

Peck said the wildlife board will likely green light air rifles for upland game — animals like quail, pheasant, grouse and other animals that the board has already approved for a .22-caliber hunt.

HB206 | Outdoor Recreation Related Education

If you’re hunting this fall and come across a gate, opened or closed, Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, has a reminder — “leave it as you find it.”

Chew sponsored HB206 this session, which would teach sportsmen proper gate etiquette after he says the pandemic prompted a proliferation of people hunting and enjoying the outdoors.

Now, anyone taking a hunter education or ATV certification course will be reminded of the importance of fences and gates for agriculture, on both private and public land, and how to close them. Chew says the course will probably include a video.

The bill passed both the House and Senate with unanimous support.

HB62 | Big Game Amendments

A bill sponsored by Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, would limit the compensation a landowner can receive from the state if their property is destroyed by wildlife.

The relationship between agriculture and wildlife is the best it’s been in years, says Snider.

But in what lawmakers called a “cleanup bill,” HB62 “is a response to some individuals that have pushed the envelope beyond that scope” of cooperation and fairness between agriculture and wildlife stakeholders.

Snider’s bill would require the state to pay the market price when compensating private property destroyed by wildlife, and only compensate for annual losses.

“If it’s a lamb and it dies, you don’t get to count every lamb it would’ve had, had it become an ewe. If it’s a tree, and it’s eaten, you don’t get to count every peach that tree would’ve grown as you apply for compensation,” Snider said.

The depredation fund the state uses to compensate landowners for property or livestock loss is limited — if it continues to compensate future losses it would result in “almost unbearable” financial consequences, Snider said.

“It would bankrupt the state,” he said.

The bill would also clarify the rule that requires the Division of Wildlife to respond to property damage by wildlife within 72 hours. If the division doesn’t respond, the landowner can take matters into their own hands and kill the animal.

In rare instances, Snider said, landowners have contacted the division on a Friday before a long weekend. His bill will extend that 72-hour timeframe during holidays.

HB141 | Target Shooting Regulations

In an attempt to curb wildfire risk, a bill sponsored by Rep. Stephen Whyte, R-Mapleton, would clarify the Division of Wildlife Resources’ ability to close wildlife management areas to target shooting.

The division can now meet with a county sheriff if a property within the sheriff’s jurisdiction is deemed a wildfire threat. Both would have to agree the property is a hazard, and put that agreement in writing. After 14 days, both would be required to review the agreement.

The bill received unanimous support in both the House and Senate.

HB78 | Wildlife Conservation Fund

If you enter an auction at one of the various events this year hosted by Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, the Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or others, you might have more clarity on where that money goes.

Each year, the Division of Wildlife Resources donates hunting tags to be auctioned at these events — the money generated goes toward conservation efforts in the area the tag is for.

“If you purchase a raffle ticket and win a bighorn sheep hunt in the west desert, the proceeds of the sale that tag will go toward species conservation in the area where the animal will be harvested,” Rep. Casey Snider, R-Brigham City, told the House in January.

HB78 will create the Wildlife Conservation Fund, allowing the public to see every step in the process — where that money is spent, where it’s collected “and all the steps in between,” Snider said.

The money will still be used for targeted conservation, but the fund will provide some level of itemization to see how exactly it’s being spent.

The bill received widespread support in both the House and Senate.

HB231 | Fishing and Hunting Restrictions for Nonpayment of Child Support

Passed during the 2021 session and later signed by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, HB197 prevents any Utahn that owes over $2,500 in child support payments from getting a hunting or fishing license.

However, anyone in between jobs who may have missed a payment because they didn’t have paycheck disbursement going to the Office of Recovery Services may be denied a hunting and fishing license, “even though they’re willing and trying to comply with what we passed past,” said Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, the bill’s sponsor.

“This just fixes that, and allows a person who is transitioning employment to miss a payment and to pay it back,” she said.

SB206 | Limits Related to Big Game

Under a bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Winterton, the Division of Wildlife Resources would be able to seize a tag if a hunter is caught illegally harvesting the wrong animal.

If a hunter draws a buck tag, but shoots a doe and harvests the meat anyways, there isn’t a statute that would invalidate their buck tag.

“Currently DWR doesn’t have the means to seize that tag,” said division law enforcement Capt. Wyatt Bubak, meaning the hunter could go out and shoot the animal they have a tag for, despite already harvested a different animal, illegally.

With Winterton’s bill, officers would have more “clarification on how they’re going to handle that,” the senator said.

SB68 | Trespass Penalty Amendments

Sponsored by Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, the trespass penalty amendments would essentially levy the same punishment to anyone trespassing on private land that applies to state land.

“When someone is cited for trespass and there’s damage that occurs on state lands, that person can be charged for up to three times the amount of damages,” Sandall told the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee.

Now, anyone who enters private land without permission to fish or hunt could be cited three times the amount of damages “or $500, whichever is greater,” the bill text reads.

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