Hunting and Fishing used to be the primary recreation activity for Utah Citizens. Schools were closed for the opening of the deer hunt, and the fishing season opener was far more important than any sporting event. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mismanagement and failure to invest in the habitats and management to sustain such herds, flocks, and fisheries resulted in dramatic declines in the ability of the land and waters to sustain healthy herds, flocks and fisheries.
Shortly after taking office, the deck of cards propping up a failed wildlife management program came crashing down. Nearly ten years of neglect and mismanagement resulted in a chaotic situation. The Ranchers wanted all the wildlife removed from their lands, federal land habitats were in horribly degraded conditions, deer populations were reduced by over 400,000 animals, predator populations were way out of balance with prey populations, the wildlife resources agency wanted to get out of the hunting and fishing business and become a non game agency, fish hatcheries were falling apart, pheasant stocking operations were eliminated, the legislature was cutting budgets, and sportsmen had given up hope.
Governor Leavitt made several key policy, funding and management decisions, and now, Utah is considered the number one place to hunt big game in all the western United States, and in fact, the Boone and Crockett Club – Founded by Teddy Roosevelt – recently reported that since the year 2000, The state of Utah has placed more big game animals in the record books than any other state, and almost more than all the other western states combined. Utah is leading the nation in restoring habitats on large acres of federal lands, watersheds are improved for fisheries, and most sportsmen believe hunting and fishing have never been better in the behive state, and the good old days lie ahead.
Literally hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding has been invested into habitats and fisheries. And as a result, thousands of jobs have been created in the hunting industry, including the establishment of two new Sportsmen Warehouse stores, a Cabela’s store, jobs in the Guiding and Outfitting Industry, Taxidermy shops dot rural Utah, and many of the nation’s leading hunting equipment manufacturers are found in the beehive state, including Barnes Bullets, Browning and Winchester Arms, Easton Arrows, Hoyt Bows, and others.
Here are some major policy, funding and management decisions made by Governor Leavitt to begin this dramatic turnaround.
- Re-organizing the Wildlife Resource Agency, and refocusing efforts on producing healthy habitats for game and fish. Appointing key leadership personnel to accomplish the mission.
- Combining two separate policy boards – the Board of Big Game Control, and the Wildlife Board into one single board with clear guidelines to respect private property rights, and to promote the economic and social values of hunting and fishing. The old Boards had originated in the 1940s, with two separate and conflicting missions.
- Investing millions of dollars of sales tax money from hunting and fishing programs back into producing healthy habitats and watersheds, which are the production factories for producing abundant game and fish populations.
- Shifting Utah towards quality hunting and fishing program – meaning limiting hunting and fishing, or creating special regulations to grow larger fish and game species.
- Creating a Blue Ribbon Fisheries program.
- Working with Federal Agencies to begin a major habitat restoration program on federal lands – the BLM and Forest Service
- Establishing new hunting programs on Private lands to allow landowners to economically benefit from, thus wanting larger, not smaller herds of game
- Supporting the re-establishment of herds and flocks of elk, wild sheep, mountain goats, moose, wild turkey, and antelope
- Supporting predator management which allowed for a balance between predator and prey, and allowed Utah’s once famous deer herds to rebound in both quantity and quality.
- Supporting the establishment of the Conservation Permit program, auctioning 5% of the annual tags, with the money going for investing with matching funds into habitat and transplant projects.
- Supported a constitutional amendment requiring a 2/3 vote to “meddle” in wildlife management policies.
Here are some of the results to date:
- The Conservation Permit program which sells 5% of all the limited Utah hunting permits generated $700,000 in its first year. In 2007, that program generated $3 Million. This is the “market place” reporting both the increase in quality and quantity of Utah’s herds and flocks.
- Several outdoor magazines are reporting Utah as the best place in the west to hunt and fish.
- Trophy Elk permits have increased from 500 to 2,500 permits, an indication in the growth of the herds in quantity and quality.
- 23 new Bighorn sheep herds have been established across Utah, with animals coming from British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada. Governor Leavitt made personal phone calls on some of these herds to clear obstacles.
- Nearly every Fish Hatchery in Utah has been rebuilt and is now operated with state of the art facilities and fish production capacities.
- Utah has treated nearly 750,000 acres of federal land, making the land dramatically more productive, and other western states are following Utah’s lead.
- Utah’s mountain goat, antelope, moose and bison herds are at all time high population’s numbers.
- Utah’s once famous Mule Deer herd has doubled, and large trophy bucks are now found again on Utah’s public lands.
- The current head of Utah’s wildlife resources agency was the first inductee into the prestigious Wildlife Manager Hall of fame by an international conservation organization.
- The businesses in the hunting and fishing industry are booming
- In 2007, Utah held the most successful international fundraising event for Wildlife Conservation in the world. Over $12 was raised at the event, and 25,000 sportsmen from 49 states and 17 countries attended.
Because of the Policy and personnel changes, and increased funding and investment, Utah is now looked upon as a leader and innovator in conservation and hunting and fishing.
Thanks Governor Leavitt, without your leadership, there is no way the dramatic turnaround would have occurred, and as is the case in so many situations, the policy and direction of elected officials has bearing for generations yet to come.