Although it remains controversial, hunting mule deer and bighorn sheep on Antelope Island seems to be here to stay.
The State Parks Board is working to establish a long-term policy for deer and bighorn hunting on the island after the 2012 Legislature for a second consecutive year mandated that the Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation provide access to the island for four hunters.
"This is a great opportunity for State Parks to be able to make recommendations for what is going on with wildlife on the island," Antelope Island State Park wildlife biologist Steve Bates told the Board of Utah State Parks and Recreation Thursday. "To date, we have not had that opportunity."
Bison hunting has been allowed on Antelope Island for years, and hunting groups had been trying to get a mule deer and bighorn sheep hunt on the largest island of the Great Salt Lake for at least a decade before the Legislature made it happen.
The board on Thursday considered approving a plan that would have authorized deer and sheep hunts on the island through 2017 but opted instead to take some time to form a policy rather than just approving the hunts.
Department of Natural Resources director Michael Styler, who oversees Utah State Parks and the Division of Wildlife Resources, encouraged the board to allow his staff time to consider the best language for the policy.
"We need to do more than just make recommendations on a couple of dates," he said. "There are other things to consider. What about disease? What if the harvest numbers are too many or too few?"
The Davis Area Convention and Visitors Bureau continues to oppose the hunts, President and Chief Executive Barbara Riddle told the board.
At an earlier board meeting, Riddle pointed out that 74 percent of the public opposes the hunts on the island.
She also asked that a decision be delayed until other parties weigh in.
The board voted to revisit the recommendation on Aug. 7.
Hunting on Antelope Island
The first mule deer and bighorn sheep hunts on Antelope Island were held in fall 2011. Two permits for deer and two for sheep were provided; one each to the highest bidder at an auction and one each to winners of a general public drawing. The 2011 mule deer tag on Antelope Island went for $265,000. The bighorn tag sold for $50,000. Permits for 2012 sold for $160,000 and $55,000, respectively. Ninety percent of the money goes to Antelope Island State Park for wildlife habitat improvements on the island. Bison have been hunted on the island for years, but that hunt is considered as a management tool whereas the deer and bighorn sheep hunts are considered recreational hunts.