Gathering antlers left by deer, elk and moose during the winter can be a rewarding outdoor activity. As a result, more people are starting to gather shed antlers.

However, the practic is causing problems for the state's big-game animals.

To help solve the problem, the Division of Wildlife Resources is asking for public input.

It also wants public comment on the upcoming cougar hunt.

The DWR's proposals are available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/public_meetings.

Comments can be made at one of the five Regional Advisory Council meetings that will be held across Utah.

Citizens representing the RACs will take the input received at the meetings to the Utah Wildlife Board. Board members will use the information to set rules and permit numbers for Utah's 2008-09 cougar hunting

season and for other hunting and trapping seasons in the state.

The meetings will be:

July 8 — Southern Region at 7 p.m. at Panguitch Triple C Arena, 50 E. 900 North in Panguitch.

July 9 — Southeastern Region at 6:30 p.m. at

John Wesley Powell Museum, 1765 E. Main St. in Green River.

July 10 — Northeastern Region at 6:30 p.m. at Uintah Interagency Fire Center, 355 N. Vernal Ave. in Vernal.

July 15 — Central Region at 6:30 p.m. at Springville Junior High School, 165 S. 700 East in Springville

July 16 — Northern Region at 6 p.m. at Brigham City Community Center, 24 N. 300 West in Brigham City.

Individuals can also provide their comments to a RAC via e-mail. E-mail addresses are available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/public_meetings.

A committee is looking for ways to make late winter and early spring easier for deer, elk and moose at a time when people swarm over winter ranges in search of antlers.

"Late winter and early spring is a critical time for big-game animals," said Mike Fowlks, chief of the DWR's law enforcement section. "It's a time of year when the animals are usually stressed and weak. It's also a time when the habitat the animals rely on can be easily damaged.

"We like the committee's ideas, but we're open to other ideas too."

The committee is proposing the following:

Requiring written authorization from the DWR to gather shed antlers in Utah from Jan. 1-May 15. Written authorization would be given after the person completed an ethics course at the DWR's Web site. The course would provide tips on how to gather antlers in a way that doesn't disturb big-game animals or damage their habitat.

Those who wanted to gather antlers after May 15 would not be required to complete the course.

The director of the DWR could close shed-antler gathering, on an emergency basis, in any part of the state where the practice was harming wildlife.

The Shed Antler Gathering Committee is undecided on whether a fee should be charged to complete the course. The 10-person committee includes representatives from the Mule Deer Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, the Utah Bowmen's Association and two at-large representatives. DWR staff have made themselves available to answer the group's questions and provide them with information.

"Please let us know what you think about the committee's ideas," Fowlks said. "We're also open to any new ideas you may have."

After gathering public input, the committee will put its final recommendations together and present them at a series of public meetings in November.

About 300 cougars would probably be taken in Utah under the DWR's recommendations for 2008-09.

That number would be similar to the past four seasons in Utah. Hunters took an average of 306 cougars during each of those seasons.

"From the mid 1990s through the early 2000s, an effort was under way to reduce the number of cougars in certain parts of Utah," said the DWR's Kevin Bunnell. "The goal was to bring cougars and the deer, bighorn sheep and

other animals that cougars prey on into better balance.

"Over the past couple of years, the number of cougars in Utah has started to stabilize," he said. "Now we're working to find the proper balance between cougars and their prey. We think the proposals we're recommending are another step in that direction."

The number of hunting permits the DWR is recommending for Utah's limited entry units, and the total number of cougars to be taken on the state's harvest objective units, are almost identical to last year.

For more information about the meetings, call the nearest DWR office or the main office at 801-538-4700.