ST. GEORGE — Shed antler-hunters in Utah can breathe a sigh of relief as no plans are in place for a statewide ban on antler collecting this season.
In a presentation before Utah Wildlife Board Thursday, the Division of Wildlife Resources recommended that shed antler gathering be allowed during the 2018 season while leaving officials discretion in closing specific areas in case of severe winter.
A ban was implemented for the majority of the 2017 season in order to eliminate a major source of human-caused disturbance and stress to deer and elk during the periods of winter months when they are most exposed and vulnerable.
“We spent a lot of time and looked for a lot of input as to how people feel about this, and honestly, people are all over the board,” DWR big game coordinator Covey Jones said.
The ban was controversial with sportsmen who argued that the lands were still open to other uses, such as hunting, biking and hiking, that may also act as stressors to the animals.
A severe winter in the northern portion of the state initially prompted DWR director Greg Sheehan to sign an emergency closure order in January 2017, banning all gathering between February and early April. It was initially limited to 11 counties but expanded statewide after officials from the southern portion of the state expressed concern about the ban’s impact on area deer populations as shed hunters moved south.
Despite feeding efforts by DWR personnel and sportsmen, the harsh winter months resulted in major loss of deer in northern portions of the state, including 90 percent of fawns and 25 percent of adults on the Cache unit.
The number of people collecting antlers each season in Utah has doubled in five years, according to DWR estimates.
“There’s a market for these things,” Jones said of the Antlers, “and it’s exploded across the west – they’re valuable.”
However, even with the increased presence of shed hunters in deer habitat, Jones said, the deer population has still generally risen.
“We’re not looking to punish the guys out there enjoying wildlife,” Jones said, “but, with that in mind, during severe winters, I think you could see the division come to the board and ask for more strategic, surgical closures on those affected areas.”
This year’s statewide ban led to increased pressure on wildlife resources in neighboring states like Nevada and Idaho, which have no restrictions on shed antler gathering and reported an influx of collectors from Utah.
“We want people to be able to participate in this activity, but we want them to do it ethically,” Jones said, recommending antler gathering be allowed in combination with an ethics course and certification while still allowing necessary, area-specific closures.
Southern Utah-based outdoors enthusiast Scott Young said the move is an appropriate compromise that will help protect deer habitat when needed while still allowing shed hunters equal gathering access.
Rangers issued 125 citations this year to individuals who ignored the ban, more than double the amount of citations in previous years and adding more than 2,500 enforcement hours.
The annual ethics course allowing legal participation in the activity will be available on the division’s website ahead of next year’s season.
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