The Utah Wildlife Board voted on Thursday to approve a decrease in the number of general season permits for the 2021 deer hunt in an effort to maintain healthy deer populations across the state.

The board approved 74,025 general season buck deer permits for 2021, a 5,650-permit decrease from the 79,675 permits approved in 2020. Out of the 29 deer hunting units across the state, 17 saw the number of general season deer permits decrease from the previous year.

Permit numbers also decreased for the limited-entry deer hunt, dropping from 1,182 in 2020 to 1,070 in 2021, as well as antler-less deer permits, decreasing from 1,175 to 935.

Other permit numbers will remain the same this year, including for the general spike bull elk, youth bull elk and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunts. A few permit numbers increased, including for the desert bighorn sheep and bison hunts.

The general season buck deer permit numbers were approved based on the recommendation of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists, who “evaluate the health of deer populations throughout the year” through GPS collaring, surveys, research projects and looking at data of the previous year’s harvest, according to a DWR press release.

“That information is factored in with current habitat and environmental conditions across the state before hunting permit recommendations are made for the upcoming hunting seasons,” the wildlife agency said.

Utah’s drought was a primary factor in the recommended decrease in general season deer hunt permits.

“We’ve had a few drought years in Utah recently, which has had a significant impact on the survival rates of deer,” DWR Big Game Coordinator Covy Jones said in the press release. “In Utah, we have the longest range-trend study in the Western U.S., and we’ve seen that having suitable habitat is crucial for maintaining or growing wildlife populations. And drought conditions can really negatively impact that habitat, which in turn affects our wildlife species.”

Utah Wildlife Boardmember Donnie Hunter, who oversees the southern region, acknowledged that the drought was hurting Utah’s deer populations.

“We’ve got some weather problems. We need some rain,” Hunter said on Thursday. “We need to get those deer back healthy.”

Hunter added that “there are some things that we can do with predators” to help deer populations, including harvesting mountain lions and making sure “we’re getting our coyotes taken care of.”

Utah experienced its third driest spring season in recorded history in 2020 after an abnormally wet spring season in 2019.

In March, Gov. Spencer Cox issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency due to drought conditions. The declaration “allows drought-affected communities, agricultural producers and others to officially begin the process that may provide access to state or federal emergency resources,” according to the governor’s office.

For more information about this year’s big game hunts in Utah, visit http://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/main-hunting-page/big-game.html.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!