A visit from Bill Bates of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to the San Juan County Commission on August 20 spurred a great deal of discussion, debate and emotion from many members of the public who attended the meeting.
The majority of the discussion centered on the Gunnison Sage Grouse and it’s possible listing as an endangered species by the Federal Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Landowners filled the commission chambers with concerns regarding the birds and the negative effect it will have on farming as well as oil and gas exploration in the area if the birds are listed.
Bates reported that a transplant of birds from Colorado to San Juan County has been put on hold until a listing decision is made by US Fish and Wildlife. Bates pointed out that the Utah DWR continues to do everything they can to keep the species from being listed as endangered. This will keep management of the birds by the state rather than the federal government.
Several property owners said Federal maps show the area as a potential listing, causing oil and gas companies to move away or hold off projects due to potential problems.
Local Division Officer Guy Wallace reported that he has met representatives of oil and gas companies to discuss their concerns. He said there are no regulations related to sage grouse to keep private land owners from developing mineral rights.
However, Wallace added that if the birds are listed and put under the control of the federal government, there could be significant restrictions on private landowners. That explains the DWR efforts to keep the bird from the federal listing.
Wallace said the sage grouse in San Juan County were stable until a hard winter two years ago. The DWR hopes the population will grow again, as it has in the past.
Bates said the work by landowners to improve the habitat and increase the population of birds is a voluntary program. He said the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources respects the rights of the private land owners and thinks that state management of the birds benefits everyone involved.
Wallace outlined the projects that have been done over the past 20 years to increase the habitat and population of the birds to keep them from being listed as endangered.
Bates also discussed a new predator control program, known by many as the “coyote bounty” program.
The program was previously run by the county and will now be administered by the DWR. The legislature allocated $500,000 to remove predators. Bates said the bounty will be $50 per coyote.
The program requires hunters to register through the DWR website. A map will show mule deer habitat where the removal of coyotes is encouraged, but they will pay bounty for coyotes taken anywhere.
Bates said animals can be checked at the UDOT shed in Monticello on September 10 and 24 from 5 to 8 p.m. Hunters will be asked to provide the location on a map. They will present either both ears attached to the scalp or a full pelt for payment.
Bates said they will evaluate the program after one year and may contract with hunters who are successful in targeted areas.
Bates mentioned a project covering 22,000 acres and $8 million of investment to improve habitat. The project with the BLM will improve deer winter range in Beef Basin.
Bates also reported that the DWR approved additional antlerless elk permits in the San Juan and La Sal units. The tags go on sale September 6. The permits are an effort to reduce the number of animals in the drought.