July 30, 2008

Senator Backs Grazing Groups Being Eligible for Hunting Tags

By Dawn House, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jul. 30--BICKNELL -- Ranchers losing grazing rights on public lands should become eligible for hunting tags that they can sell on the open market, a state senator said Tuesday.

Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, told 100 ranchers at the Utah Cattlemen's Association conference that sporting groups and private landowners are awarded hunting permits, while public lands ranchers "have been left out of the loop."

Hunting tags given out by the Division of Wildlife Resources and sold to the public through auctions can fetch tens of thousands of dollars. For now, though, the only organizations allowed to auction the permits are nonprofits who use money from the tags on projects that help wildlife.

Stowell said hunting tags also could be given to grazing groups when livestock allotments are cut back. The money in turn, would be used to improve the rangelands so that cattle can again graze. And when the number of livestock returns to prior grazing levels, the hunting tags would be withheld.

Private landowners can sell a certain number of big-game hunting permits through the state's Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit program, based on habitat conditions and herd populations.

Landowners in turn, must provide 10 percent of overall permits to the public. And some of those permits, such as elk tags, can go for as much as $12,000. By contrast, public elk permits cost $280 and are awarded through a public drawing.

Stowell said changes in the program could be accomplished through legislation or by administrative rule.

Craig McLaughlin, wild- life section chief for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, declined direct comment on the new proposal but said an existing cooperative wildlife management permit program is designed to allow landowners to receive value for wildlife that uses private lands.

"Public lands belong to the public," he said. "They are not private. There's quite a difference there in terms. [The proposal] would be auctioning off or selling a public resource. That would be a concern."

Stowell cautioned ranchers to cooperate with sporting groups "because if you go up against them, you'll lose every time."

Cattlemen's Association President Gary Hallows said he supports the idea of grazing groups becoming eligible for hunting tags, as long as the permits go to livestock owners.

"It just might work," he said. "But there would have to be a clear formula on exactly who would get the additional tags."

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--TOM WHARTON contributed to this story.


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