A group of Utah wilderness and wildlife organizations has proposed creating nature preserves in City Creek Canyon and the High Uintas Primitive Area, where hunting and fishing would be outlawed.
Restoring declining numbers of fish and other animals as well as giving those who don't hunt a place to observe wildlife are the main objectives of the plan presented by the Non-consumptive Wildlife Group of Utah on Monday."There is no interest on our part to close the state to hunting," said George Nickas, assistant coordinator of the Utah Wilderness Association. "These (proposed preserves) make up less than 1 percent of the state."
Headed by the UWA, the group first mentioned the idea of wildlife preserves in its Utah Wildlife Manifesto, released last March. The document called for more balance between hunter and non-hunter interests in managing the state's wildlife.
The group chose City Creek because of the canyon's close proximity to Salt Lake City, offering residents a chance to watch wildlife year-round in a natural setting.
"We feel that since there are so many areas of this state where hunters can hunt, a heavily used area such as City Creek Canyon . . . should be considered off-limits to hunting except in a carefully managed situation," said Pat Briggs, president of the Utah Audubon Society.
The High Uintas Primitive Area is a 247,000-acre region within designated wilderness. Nickas said it's an ideal area for restoring native species of plants and animals because of its size and unaltered state.
"It's as close as we can get to an area that has maintained its integrity," he said.
Nickas noted that a High Uintas preserve should improve hunting in the area by providing a protection and breeding ground for game that would eventually venture into the hunting areas surrounding the preserve.
The type of hunting and fishing restrictions and where they would be imposed isn't entirely clear. The proposal ranges from widespread bans to catch-and-return fishing.
The state Division of Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service would establish and enforce any restrictions, the group said. Those agencies would also have to monitor wildlife populations and habitat within the preserves.
The group proposes state tax money, user fees, federal grants and volunteer labor contribute to enable management of the preserves.
Land managers determine restrictions on a case-by-case basis, Nickas said, with land managers looking at each stream and lake to determine what type of restriction would be necessary to preserve native species.
"They could close certain areas for a time, then reopen them," Nickas said. But hunting would only be a last resort to control unacceptable damage caused by an overpopulation of wildlife.
For example, he said, if closing City Creek to hunting results in too many deer foraging for food in residential areas, then the ban would have to be reconsidered.
That's precisely what has happened to wildlife preserves in the past. But preserve supporters contend that past attempts failed because only deer and other prey were protected while natural predators - such as cougar, bear and bobcat - continued to be hunted.
"It is not particularly surprising that deer overpopulation occurred under these circumstances," the group said. "History (of past pre-serves) strongly suggests that natural predator-prey relationships will be a critical element in establishing successful wildlife preserves."
Before hunters would be called in to control an imbalance, the group said, land managers should try boundary adjustments and other efforts to establish the natural predator-prey balance.
"Making the preserve work will require patience," the group said.
Preserve proposal gets mixed reactions
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources - "This is a legitimate proposal," said director Tim Provan. "We are not throwing it in the trash can."
Provan said they'll examine how private property owners would be affected; the impact unhunted animals would have on urban and agricultural lands; how input from all land users would be received; and what resources DWR would need to manage a wildlife preserve.
U.S. Forest Service - "From a practical standpoint it can be implemented. It's the political aspect that will be tough," said Michael Sieg, district ranger of the Salt Lake Ranger District.
He said the Forest Service, which manages wildlife habitat, wouldn't issue an opinion on the proposal, but it would want to be involved in setting policy governing the preserve.
Trout Unlimited - "You have to ask if our current policies are the best in the long run," said Bill Partner, vice president of the Utah Chapter, The Stonefly Society of the Wasatch.
He acknowledged that a proposal to restrict fishing in the High Uintas may not be popular. But he said it may be the best alternative to maintain native fisheries in that region in the future.
Utah Hunters Federation - "It's a little scary because it's not in sync with modern wildlife management," said Bill Christensen, president of the Utah Hunters Federation.
"It doesn't realistically address wildlife management issues. There are not enough predators in those areas to control deer and elk populations. You're asking for a disaster.
"We already have five national parks where there is no hunting."