Local approval of the increase may not come easily, if the September 10 meeting of the San Juan County Commission is any indication.
The proposal would increase the management population objective of elk in the San Juan unit by 15 percent, from 1,300 to 1,500. DWR officials said there is no increase under consideration for the La Sal unit. The state will offer funds for habitat improvement in areas where the population objectives are increased.
Commissioner Bruce Adams said that local sportsmen will likely defer to the views of local cattlemen, who have serious questions about the increase. Adams said that one view would be that if the habitat can support additional wildlife, it should be able to support additional livestock.
Adams added that federal agencies control the number of cattle allowed on grazing allotments and increasing livestock on public lands would be very complicated.
Adams also mentioned that local residents are sensitive about the subject because wildlife issues affect livestock and mineral exploration, which have been mainstays of the local economy for decades. He added that all but two of nearly 40 recent drilling permits in San Juan County were turned down by the BLM, partially because of wildlife issues.
Commissioner Lynn Stevens expressed concern that the state may approve the changes regardless of local input. “There is not a county commission in rural Utah that favors an increase in elk or bison,” said Stevens, who added that there is a perception that the state wildlife board “thumbs their nose at rural elected officials.”
Stevens said he fears that the state board will approve the increase unilaterally and said, “At some point the voices of elected officials have got to be heard.”
Guy Wallace, a local DWR employee at the meeting, said that the state would not recommend an action in the area that is not recommended by the local elk committee.
The local committee includes representation by the federal land agencies, DWR, San Juan County, cattlemen, sportsmen, and Cooperative Wildlife Management Units (CWMU).