The Joint Committee on Wildlife Resources says a controversial proposal that would have turned 53,000 acres of state-owned school trust lands into a private hunting club is unacceptable if it means closing public access to state lands to accommodate a few hunters.
"But with some changes, I believe we can come up with something that will satisfy all needs," Tim Provan, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, told the committee."What we are concerned about is giving anyone exclusive hunting rights to public lands," said Provan. "One way around this is for the State Land Board to give exclusive outfitting rights. We, in turn, could issue `preference control permits' in accordance with the percentage of private vs. public lands. In this case 10 percent of the area is private. We presently issue 30 (elk) permits in that hunting unit. Therefore, we could issue three control permits to the outfitter that he could use as he wished.
"But access to public lands would have to remain open to the other 27 permit holders. The (land) board could get their money by working out a percentage with the outfitter. Your (land board) needs are met because you generate revenue, and ours are met."
Earlier this month Greg Cunningham, a Utah cattleman, asked the land board to give him total control of trust lands bordering his property near Vernal.
After some discussion the six members on the Joint Committee on Wildlife Resources, made up of two members each from the State Land Board, Utah Wildlife Board and Board of Big Game Control, impaneled to review options on ways more revenue can be generated from school trust lands, voted unanimously to return to their respective boards with the plan.
Meeting before a packed house, the committee also agreed to ask the attorney general for a ruling on control of trust lands. Land board members have argued that the lands are not public but are there to generate money for Utah schools by whatever means the land board deems right. The DWR and wildlife organization contend that the lands are owned by the state and that all state lands are public lands that must be kept open to the public.
The State Land Board will meet May 10-11 to decide on several proposals, including the one by Cunningham. The Board of Big Game Control will conduct public meetings starting on Friday to hear big game complaints and recommendations from sportsmen and landowners.
Those meeting will start Friday in Ogden at Mt. Ogden Middle School, 3260 Harrison Blvd. Other meetings will be May 8 in Cedar City at Cedar City High School, 703 W. 600 South; May 9 in Richfield at Richfield High School, 510 W. 100 South; May 11 in Vernal at Vernal Middle School, 721 W. 100 South; and May 12 in Orem at Canyon View Junior High School, 655 E. 950 North. The board will meet May 13 to set big game hunting dates and permit numbers. All meetings will begin at 7 p.m.
Cattleman Greg Cunningham wants the land board to give him total control of trust lands bordering his property in the Book Cliff area south of Vernal. He would, in turn, ask the Utah Board of Big Game Control, of which he is a member, for 10 special elk permits that he would sell at $5,500 each. He would then return to the school system between five and 10 percent from the sale of the permits.