The arrival of winter means deer in Utah are migrating to low-elevation winter ranges, providing ample opportunity for wildlife watchers to view the stately mammals.
However, it also provides some of the best opportunities for poachers because the deer are more concentrated and less wary than in other seasons.
Wildlife officials in the state are aware of this, and are stepping up enforcement efforts in response. This winter, Division of Wildlife Resources conservation officers and members of sportsman’s groups are carrying out the largest winter range patrols ever conducted in the state.
“As Utahns celebrate the holidays and usher in a new year, our officers will be busy protecting the state’s mule deer herds from poachers — thieves who steal wildlife from present and future generations of ethical sportsmen,” said Mike Fowlks, chief of the DWR’s Law Enforcement Section. “We’re pulling out all the stops and using all the means we have to protect Utah’s deer herds.”
Those means include patrolling of winter ranges at night, both by land and from the air; saturation patrols that put several DWR officers on the same piece of winter range at the same time; and enlisting volunteers from sportsman groups to serve as additional eyes and ears.
Fowlks said most of the on-the-ground and aerial patrolling is focused on areas where deer are most at risk, “but those aren’t the only areas our officers and volunteers are watching. We’re watching winter ranges across the state.”
He said five areas in Utah are receiving special attention: The west desert; the southwestern corner of the state; the Paunsaugunt deer unit in southern Utah; The Henry Mountains in southeastern Utah; and the Book Cliffs in the eastern part of the state.
Fowlks said all people traveling in Utah’s backcountry this winter are encouraged to keep their eyes and ears open to spot potential poaching activity.
“You don’t have to be part of this patrol effort to make a difference,” he said. “If you see something suspicious, let us know as soon as possible.”
Utah’s Turn-in-a-Poacher hotline, 800-662-3337, is the most efficient way to contact a DWR officer. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Fowlks said poachers usually target the biggest bucks they can find. In addition to stealing opportunity from legal hunters, taking the bucks can also result in too many deer being taken during the legal hunts in the fall.
So far in 2011, wildlife officers have investigated the illegal killing of 189 mule deer in Utah. Most were bucks, and 22 of them had antlers large enough to place in a trophy category, Fowlks said. The monetary value of the animals to Utah’s citizens is $242,800.