Despite recent rain storms, state land managers continue to warn of high fire danger in the mountains and hills. It is not, however, serious enough now to threaten scheduled big game hunts in October.
Faced with the fifth driest water year on record and the worst fire season in 30 years, officials made a plea this week to individuals to be especially careful when outdoors and to abide by fire-closure regulations in northern regions.Following announced delays in scheduled hunts in Montana, Washington and Oregon, there was talk of possibly closing or delaying big game hunts in some areas of Utah.
State Forester Dick Klason said there was discussion on the subject, "but we decided against it for a number of reasons.
"First, we keep hoping the weather will improve. Also, we hope people will be extra careful. We realize the importance of the deer hunt."
Upwards of 600,000 people (200,000 hunters) are expected to participate in this year's general deer hunt, which opens Oct. 22. Utah's elk hunt, involving about 30,000 hunters, opens Wednesday.
Dwight Bunnell, chief of game management for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, pointed out that only the northern parts of the state are under fire control. Central and southern areas, he added, have received above average precipitation.
One of the main concerns, said Neal Riddle of the U.S. Forest Service, is that fire crews have been disbanded and a tanker that was loaned to the state for fire control will soon be returned.
"We don't want to overreact," he added. "We believe if people will follow the fire closures, then this will not be much of a problem."
Under the closure, open campfires and smoking in the out-of-doors are banned.
Bunnell said it is important that the hunts go on as scheduled, "and we don't want hunters to think otherwise. We just want to make them aware of the problems. The deer hunt was scheduled in October so it would be out of the fire danger season. Hopefully, by then we will be out of danger."
Because of the increase in herd size in northern areas, thousands of deer and elk could face starvation if the hunt were canceled.