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Utah's Conservation Permit Program

Permit revenue benefits wildlife, habitat and hunters.

If you hunt in Utah, you've benefited from a program you might not know much about. Utah's Conservation Permit Program provides substantial, dedicated funding for wildlife projects. It's a program that benefits wildlife, habitat and hunters.

Collared doe

Using revenue from conservation permits, the DWR is studying mule deer survival statewide.

Program overview

Conservation permits are hunting permits auctioned annually at banquets, fundraisers and other events sponsored by various conservation groups. Since the program began in 1981, these permits have raised more than $32 million. The majority of that revenue—more than 90 percent—has gone toward projects that directly benefit the species for which the permit was issued. These projects include:

  • Habitat enhancement and restoration
  • Species transplants
  • Radio telemetry studies and research projects
  • Aerial surveys
  • Education efforts

The Conservation Permit Program funds important wildlife and habitat projects with minimal impact to Utah hunters. In April 2012, the conservation and sportsmen groups that participate in the program allocated more than $1.53 million toward DWR-approved projects for the coming fiscal year (FY 2013).

How the program works

Although the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) distributes conservation permits, the Utah Wildlife Board has authority over the number and type of permits issued. Board members have adopted a detailed administrative rule that determines how many conservation permits are available and how they are distributed

The conservation groups that partner with the DWR in this program can then auction the permits to members of the public who attend their annual banquets and fundraising events. Conservation permits are available for the following species: bear, bighorn sheep (desert and Rocky Mountain), bison, cougar, deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, Rocky Mountain goats and turkey.

After the permits are auctioned, the funds are allocated as follows:

  • The group that sold the permits retains 10 percent of the proceeds to cover administrative costs. The group can keep that money for its own use, but groups sometimes donate it back to the DWR.
  • The DWR receives 30 percent to benefit the species for which the permits were sold.
  • The remaining 60 percent may be kept by the group that sold the permits. Those funds must be spent on DWR-approved wildlife projects or activities. Groups must follow the administrative rule to continue participating in the Conservation Permit Program.

For 2013, the Utah Wildlife Board approved 316 conservation permits, 211 of which were for limited-entry or once-in-a-lifetime big game hunting. (To put this in perspective, the DWR issues approximately 6,500 limited-entry hunting permits each year.) Here's a detailed look at conservation permit numbers and revenue from 2001–2013.

Goat release

Conservation permits helped fund mountain goat transplants in 2013.

Program benefits

Because of the funding it generates, the Conservation Permit Program benefits all Utah hunters:

  • The program’s revenue has been critical in keeping permit fees low and ensuring that most permits go to Utah residents. The percentage of Utah permits available to nonresidents is among the lowest in the western states.
  • All hunters have benefited from abundant wildlife numbers enhanced by the use of conservation permit funds, resulting in the opportunity to hunt mule deer, elk, black bear, bighorn sheep, bison, moose and mountain goats. The Conservation Permit Program has funded transplants of 624 bighorn sheep, 350 pronghorn and 80 bison to provide some of these additional opportunities. Already in FY 2014, 86 mountain goats have been moved using conservation permit funds. Plans are also in place to move 50 to 120 bighorn sheep.
  • Utah leads the West in habitat work, restoring more than 1.2 million acres of wildlife habitat since 2005. The Conservation Permit Program contributed to 340 different habitat projects from 2006–2013. Learn more about habitat-restoration efforts.
  • Utah has launched numerous studies and research projects to better understand changes in big game populations. The program is currently funding studies on highway mortality, bison, moose and deer survival, and the effects of predators on mule deer. Learn more about some of the research projects.

Revenue from the Conservation Permit Program provides funding for projects that could not otherwise be funded under the DWR’s normal operating budget. Without the program, Utah’s general deer and elk permit fees would likely increase by an additional $15 to $20, or a larger percentage of those permits would have to go to nonresidents, who pay higher permit fees.

Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative

The online database contains in-depth information about the habitat-restoration projects funded by the Conservation Permit Program.

Participating conservation and sportsmen groups

The Conservation Permit Program relies on partnering with conservation and sportsmen groups who raise funds by auctioning conservation permits at banquets held throughout Utah. In FY 2013, seven groups participated in the program, including Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, the Mule Deer Foundation, Utah Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited and the Utah Bowmen's Association.

Detailed information about projects

After they auction conservation permits each year, members of the participating conservation groups meet with the DWR to decide how to spend the 60 percent of permit revenue that funds many wildlife projects. The groups’ representatives discuss proposals and then indicate which habitat and wildlife projects they want to fund.

The DWR tracks detailed information about all of the habitat-restoration projects using the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative’s online database. The DWR and its partners launched the initiative in 2005. Since then, the initiative has generated approximately $130 million to restore more than 1.2 million acres of habitat. The Conservation Permit Program has provided more than $6.6 million of the $130 million. When possible, the DWR uses the conservation permit revenue to obtain matching funds and donations from other agencies and the federal government.

In April 2012, the conservation and sportsmen groups in the program allocated $1.53 million toward DWR-approved projects for the coming year (FY 2013). The screen shot above provides a quick look at one of the projects supported with conservation permit funds. On the project pages, you can click the items in the left column to learn more about necessary equipment, budget components, affected species, proposed features and other relevant project details.

Habitat restoration project

DWR personnel use a bullhog to improve wildlife habitat on the Henry Mountains.

Program audits

The Utah Legislature audited the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and specifically reviewed the Conservation Permit Program (pages 27–30). The auditors released their final report in November 2011. They reached the following conclusion:

The sale of conservation permits promotes habitat improvement on public lands with no expense to the taxpayer, while negligibly reducing the public's opportunity to draw a permit for a limited-entry hunting area. We would encourage the division to continue to support this program.

The DWR annually audits the Conservation Permit Program and presents the results to the Utah Wildlife Board.

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