After ‘disrespectful violations,’ Ute Tribe terminates all nontribal hunting, fishing permits

Ute Chairman Julius T. Murray III said nonmembers have been leaving trash and riding ATVs on tribal lands.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pictured is a sign in 2023 marking the Uintah and Ouray Reservation of the Ute Indian Tribe of Utah. The tribe's governing Business Committee voted in January 2024 to suspend all nonmember hunting, fishing and recreation permits.

Piles of garbage — food wrappers, soda cans and toilet paper — left behind at campsites. All-terrain vehicles tracks marked across the fragile desert dirt. Evidence that people had trespassed through private areas and on roads clearly labeled “closed.”

After a series of “these disrespectful violations,” the Ute Indian Tribe of Utah is now taking the rare step to suspend all fishing and hunting permits for outsiders to recreate on its lands.

The decision from the tribe’s governing Business Committee came at the end of January in a formal resolution. All current permits for non-tribal members to access Ute land for recreation are immediately terminated. And the chairman for the Utes said there is a moratorium on issuing any new permits — which will continue indefinitely.

“As long as there are individuals who disrespect tribal jurisdiction and sovereignty and treat our homeland as a place of lawlessness, then we have no choice but to draw a hard line on all nonmember permits,” said Chairman Julius T. Murray III.

He added: “Nonmember hunting and fishing on our lands is a privilege, not a right.”

The tribe’s Uintah and Ouray Reservation, which sits in the northeastern corner of Utah, covers 4.5 million acres in the Uinta Basin. The land is under the sovereign jurisdiction of the tribe, which can choose to limit access for any reason.

This appears to be the first time the tribe has taken such large-scale action.

The termination of permits largely applies to hunting and fishing on tribal lands, but also extends to any outdoor recreation, including boating, swimming or camping, too.

The tribe issues permits to outsiders for those activities — and when those are issued, a nontribal member pays a fee and agrees to abide by a list of rules. For fishing and hunting, that previously included no access to Desolation Canyon, for instance.

Additionally, nonmembers are not allowed to drive ATVS on tribal lands. And permit holders are expressly told to pack out any trash.

There is a 25-page list of rules that lists what nonmembers are allowed to do with their permit, including what fish they can keep if angling, what bodies of water they can boat on, etc.

Murray said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune that the Business Committee felt those “simple rules” were not being followed.

“There are people out there not respecting the land,” he said. “And the committee has decided to be pro-active about it.”

With trespassing, he added, “it’s happening all the time.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ute Indian Tribe Chairman Julius T. Murray III in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.

Murray pointed to an incident, too, from 2022 where a Ute Fish and Wildlife officer had tried to confront a couple, both nonmembers, riding an ATV on the reservation. As the couple was driving off, the officer shot at and hit the man and woman, according to court records.

The chairman said the officer was also injured and dragged on the side of the ATV.

The officer has since been federally indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for firing her weapon in the altercation. But the couple has not faced charges for trespassing or violating tribal rules.

While the Ute Tribe has civil jurisdiction on the reservation, it does not have criminal jurisdiction, Murray said — so the tribe cannot pursue charges against the couple.

The federal government is supposed to represent tribes with criminal matters, and Murray said he is frustrated that the government has not stepped in on that side in the altercation.

He said that leaves the tribe with limited options and led, in part, to the decision to suspend the permits.

“It’s always those bad apples that ruin it for everyone,” he said. “And we have to protect our land and our people from bad actors.”