2004 Big Game Drawing Odds Available to Help Hunters Applying This Year

Hunters applying for a 2005 Utah big game permit can obtain their approximate drawing odds after visiting a Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Web site.

The DWR's 2004 Bucks, Bulls and Once-In-A-Lifetime Bonus Point Results and Drawing Success publication is available for viewing at DWR offices in Salt Lake City and Springville. Hunters may purchase copies for $15, plus sales tax, at each location.

Those with access to the Internet may view and download the publication for free by visiting the DWR's Web site at http://www.wildlife.utah.gov. The publication can be found by clicking on the Hunting section of the home page and then clicking on Big Game. After arriving at the Big Game section, scroll down to Big Game Statistics.

Hunters are reminded that applications for 2005 Utah big game hunting permits must be received no later than Jan. 31 to be included in the draw for permits. Mail-in applications must arrive no later than 5 p.m., and applications submitted through the DWR's Web site must be received no later than 11 p.m. that day.

Hunters with questions may call the Springville Division of Wildlife Resources office at (801) 491-5678 or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at (801) 538-4700.

Bighorns Return to Mount Nebo

Eighteen Montana bighorn sheep now call Mt. Nebo home, thanks to efforts of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep. With sheep arriving from the Thompson Falls area [north of Missoula] and the Augusta area [west of Great Falls], Ryan Foutz, president of the Utah Chapter of FNAWS, commented,."These animals came out of the Rock Creek area, which is known for [the] genetics [of its bighorn sheep]. They should be a great addition to the Utah herds."

Walt Donaldson, UDWR regional supervisor, added, "These are some of the biggest, healthiest bighorns I've ever seen." Part of the Thompson Falls group, consisting of three rams and 31 ewes and lambs, were released near Little Hole along Utah's Green River.

This reintroduction is significant, since evidence strongly indicates that they were once abundant in Utah. Fossils, rock art and skeletal remains are found in prehistoric sites, along with journals kept by early explorers, trappers and settlers.

Unfortunately, soon after the first explorers arrived, the state's bighorn populations began to decline. Indiscriminate hunting, introduced diseases, competition for range and water, and the general deterioration of habitat caused by livestock and human exploitation caused bighorn numbers to plummet.

The first law protecting bighorn sheep was passed in 1876, when Utah was still a territory. Stricter laws followed before the turn of the century. Even with legal protection by the state of Utah, however, bighorn sheep numbers continued to decline from the combined effects of habitat alterations, disease, competition from domestic livestock and poaching.

During the 1930s, the number of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Utah was estimated at a few hundred survivors. By the 1950s, probably less than 100 survived, and by the 1970s biologists believed they were eradicated in Utah, except for a failing reintroduced herd in the Willard Peak area.

This is not the first reintroduction effort on Mount Nebo. This was the second place the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) tried to reintroduce Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Jim Karpowitz, UDWR big game coordinator, explained, "In 1981, 27 bighorns were released to a remote area of this mountain and 21 more in 1982. By 1983, the herd was estimated at 55 head. It is generally agreed that the 1983-84 winter decimated the herd. In 1987, the herd was estimated at 12 to 15 animals and by 1994 it was down to 10. Hard winters, disease and predation were all listed as causes for the decline in numbers."

A partnership of state, federal and private organizations is ready to try Mount Nebo again. Karen Hartman, wildlife biologist for the Uinta National Forest, noted, "The habitat for bighorn sheep in the Nebo Unit of the Uinta National Forest has greatly improved since the 2001 Birch and Mollie fires. Bighorn sheep are indigenous to the area, and the Forest Service supports the UDWR in their efforts to return bighorn sheep to the Nebo Unit."

"Several things have changed that made us want to try and reestablish bighorns on Mt. Nebo," Karpowitz added. "In addition to extensive wild fires, natural succession has resulted in more grass and less shrubs on the west side of the mountain, creating better bighorn habitat. Harvest of cougars has been accelerated in preparation for the transplant,"

Another change is the livestock grazing system. The Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS) has assisted the partnership in creating an environment with less competition and chances for acquiring an exotic disease. "We've been working with willing sellers and those interested in moving their livestock operation to another range," said Ryan Foutz, president of the Utah Chapter of FNAWS. "Mount Nebo is one of several places where we've been successful in negotiating a trade. It's been free of domestic sheep grazing now for a couple of years."

According to UDWR habitat biologist Mark Farmer, future habitat enhancements are also planned. "We are going to be improving habitat near the bighorn sheep transplant area during 2005," Farmer said. "The enhancements are part of the UDWR Habitat Initiative and the partnerships we've formed with other land management agencies, agriculture and private organizations. These projects will not only benefit bighorn sheep but many other wildlife species as well.

"Some of these upcoming habitat projects will include green stripping, which creates two benefits: firebreaks and forage," Farmer said. "Green stripping near the interstate helps protect the rangeland from unplanned catastrophic fires, including those vital stands of remaining sagebrush so critical as deer winter range. The seeding mix includes grasses, forage kosia and other forbes which will provide some additional winter/spring forage for elk, deer and a variety of other wildlife. We will also be seeding degraded rangelands in the Nebo Wildlife Management Area with grasses and forbs to provide better forage for bighorns and other wildlife."

The science behind the transplants also has changed. Wildlife biologists believe part of the reason the Willard Peak and first Nebo reintroductions failed is that the bighorn sheep were confined in large paddocks (enclosed areas). Karpowitz noted, "There is considerable evidence that a free release of bighorns will be more successful than the paddock releases on Nebo in 1981 and 1982. In addition, the new bighorns from Montana are accustomed to hard winters and deep snow."

Only time will tell if the biologists are correct. This time, biologists believe they've got the right combination for a strong and healthy herd.

Volunteers Needed to Teach Kids How to Fish

Adult volunteers are needed to teach youth, ages six- to 13, about fish and fishing in communities stretching from Logan to Salem, with nearby youth fishing clubs established in Murray, South Jordan, Orem and Spanish Fork in 2005.

Volunteer training is scheduled in February, requiring one evening to complete. Clubs of 40 to 80 children each will be formed by April and will meet for eight weeks. While patience and good communication and teaching skills are needed, adults don't need a lot of fishing experience to volunteer. Cushing commented, "After training, regardless of the person's fishing skills, I'm sure they'll feel completely comfortable getting together with their youth fishing club."

After training, volunteers will spend about two hours once a week, through the spring and/or summer, teaching children about fish and fishing by fishing with them at a local water. Cushing suggests that many rewards await those who volunteer, "When they see the look on a kid's face, the first time they catch a fish, it'll probably make their whole summer." He added, "2004 was our most successful year yet. About 1,700 children and 250 adult volunteers participated. Many of the volunteers were people who have helped before. They've seen the positive influence they've had on these kids and the difference they're making in their lives."

Cushing reports that communities are starting to offer fishing as a sport in their city recreation departments, and that's the main reason for the clubs' increased success. "For the first time, fishing has found its way into mainstream sports, right along with soccer, baseball and

Cushing adds that the popularity of the clubs has led to some challenges. "The number of kids who can participate is tied directly to the number of adults who volunteer to help," he said. "If we don't get enough volunteers, some of the kids who want to participate won't be able to this year."

To volunteer, or for more information, call Andrew Cushing, community fisheries biologist for the DWR, at (801) 538-4774 or send an e-mail to him at andrewcushing@utah.gov

Slight Increase in Black Bear Hunting Permits approved by Utah Wildlife Board

Utah's black bear hunters will have a few more permits to draw for in 2005, as the Utah Wildlife Board recently approved 238 public permits for 2005.

The biggest permit increases will on the Book Cliffs unit in eastern Utah and on two South Slope units in northeastern Utah, where increased numbers of bears visited campgrounds and broke into cabins last year. The board approved 29 permits for the Book Cliffs unit (compared to 24 in 2004) and a total of 23 permits for the two South Slope units (compared to 15 in 2004).

Applications for 2005 black bear hunting permits will be available by Feb. 1.

Applications must be received no later than Feb. 28 to be included in the draw for permits, with draw results available by April 1.

Stable bear populations in Utah are one of the reasons the Division of Wildlife Resources recommended keeping black bear permit similar to last year. Kevin Bunnell, mammals coordinator for the DWR, reported, "The data we have indicates the number of black bears in Utah is stable, or is increasing slightly."

Another reason is a five-year experimental spring bear hunt. 2005 will be the last year of the testing, conducted to determine whether spring bear hunts result in hunters taking fewer female bears. Bunnell remarked, "We want to make sure our biologists have consistent data to look at, and keeping permit numbers similar to what they have been will provide that data."

The Utah Wildlife Board approved the five-year experimental spring bear hunt in 2000. Bunnell reports that since the spring hunt started in 2001, 23 percent of the bears taken on four spring hunt units have been females. By comparison, 36 percent of the bears taken on four similar fall hunting units have been females.

"It's important to keep a good percentage of females in the population," Bunnell noted. "The number of females determines the number of young that will be born each year. By keeping a good percentage of females in the population, we can ensure Utah's black bear populations remain stable."

Bunnell suggests that there are two main reasons fewer females are taken in the spring. "Male bears usually emerge from their dens earlier in the spring than females do, and the spring hunt dates have been set to increase the chance of hunters encountering male bears. Also, a female's cubs tend to stay closer to her in the spring than they do later in the year, and harvesting females with cubs is prohibited."

The board also approved Utah's first River Otter Management Plan, allowing the DWR to transplant river otters from northeastern Utah into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

"The DWR reintroduced river otters to the Green River in the late 1980s, and they've done really well," Bunnell said. "We'll be taking some of those otters and reestablishing them in other parts of the state." In addition to the Green River area, Bunnell says river otters also live in other parts of northeastern Utah, in the Raft Rivers in the northern part of the state and in the Colorado River area of Grand County.

For more information, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at (801) 538-4700.