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Tom Smart, Deseret News
A deer finds water from a decorative pond behind a burned home after a major fire swept through the Herriman area in September.

For nearly two decades now, Utah's deer have struggled despite limits and laws intended to help.

For example, a ceiling of 94,000 deer hunting permits was established 15 years ago. Back in the late 1980s, nearly 250,000 permits were sold.

The number of days hunters could hunt was also cut. This past season ran only five days and in some units only three.

A bad winter in the early 1990s killed thousands of deer and since then, herds have been unable to recover. It is estimated there are about 300,000 mule deer in Utah.

Despite changes, some of Utah's hunting areas still fall below the numbers set in the state's deer management plan, which is 15 bucks per 100 does, and a total population of around 465,000.

The preferred buck/doe ratio is 18-to-100.

Now the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is putting forth three plans and is asking Utah hunters for their opinions.

The first option, which is the one preferred by the DWR, would continue with the five-day season in the state's five regions, but areas within those regions would be subject to stricter controls.

Increasing buck/doe ratios to 18-to-100 would require reducing the total number of permits to around 87,000. This would likely increase the cost of each permit.

Under option two, the state would be divided into 29 units and each would be managed separately. To get the 18 bucks per 100 does would require cutting the number of permits by 13,000.

The third option would be to continue under current days and permit limits.

There will be five Regional Advisory Council meetings held to gather information from hunters.

The meetings will be:

Nov. 16 — Beaver High School, 195 E. Center St., at 5 p.m.

Nov. 17 — John Westley Powell Museum in Green River, 1765 E. Main St., at 6:30 p.m.

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Nov. 18 — Western Park in Vernal, 302 E. 200 South, at 6:30 p.m.

The proposed changes represent some of the biggest in deer hunting in 15 years.

And, said Anis Aoude, big game coordinator for the DWR, "What's decided could change deer hunting as we know it."

Members of the Utah Wildlife Board will meet on Dec. 2 to review comments and make a final decision.

For details on the proposals visit www.wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/2011-deer-changes.html Comments can also be received by e-mail addressed to www.wildlife.utah.gov/public_meetings.