For every new luxury car with personalized license plates in the Uintah Basin, there is at least one old pickup truck with a rack of hunting rifles in the back window.
Aiming those rifles at deer, elk and antelope every hunting season is important to many area residents, and when the Ute Indian Reservation grew four-fold in 1986, many were concerned that privilege would escape them.A U.S. Supreme Court decision awarded not only 3 million acres of original reservation land to the tribe but also returned hunting rights on the land, saying the tribe could use the privileges to support themselves.
With the hunting rights went the ability to regulate hunting and fishing on prime Utah fish and game land and perhaps the ability to restrict activity where many basin residents had hunted and fished for decades.
Two years ago, despite assertions to the contrary from Ute officials, talk in Roosevelt focused on concern that locals wouldn't be able to enjoy their favorite fishing holes and hunting sights, said Mayor Lawrence Yack.
Now, in the midst of this year's elk hunting season, state Division of Wildlife officials say eastern Utah's playgrounds remain untethered. Anglers and hunters - such as Mac Swain, 18, of Neola, Duchesne County, who spent last week hunting elk - report "no change" in the way the lands are regulated.
Tribal and state wildlife officials say they have worked closely with each other to adopt similar regulations for exterior boundary land, the 3 million acres the tribe was awarded in the 1986 court decision.
"We're getting good cooperation. It's not as hot, like it used to be. I think time has a tendency to smooth things out a little bit," said Clair Davis, regional manager for law enforcement with the Division of Wildlife in Vernal.
Regulations governing fishing and hunting of elk, deer and antelope have changed only slightly since the expansion.
The tribe has no authority over non-Indians hunting on exterior boundary land. They can hunt and fish on exterior boundary land with only a state Division of Wildlife permit, said Karen Courts, wildlife bi-ologist for the tribe.
Utes hunting and fishing on exterior boundary lands need only a tribal license, actually one of the roughly 400 permits given to the tribe by the state, Courts said.
Non-Indians still can't hunt on the 1 million acres of original reservation land that existed before the court decision. Indians, however, can hunt year round.
Despite the urge to hunt at will, conservation concerns on the Ute Reservation prevail. Indians on that land can participate in a "subsistence" deer hunt year round, but other species are limited under a permit process, Courts said.
This year the tribe got roughly 400 permits from the state to allocate to tribal members hunting on the original reservation, said Courts. She and Davis agree permits help the tribe manage game on the reservation and help the state stick to its own management plan.
"They're trying to manage the wildlife and they have the same problems we do," Davis said.