LAST WEEK, we held an open house at the College of Eastern Utah to discuss deer management. We had a good turnout. Eighty-one people registered, and we had some additional visitors who just wandered in to share their ideas.
People began showing up about 6 p.m., so we started a little early. Many expected a presentation and said they just came to listen. This is the major difference between an open house and our traditional regional advisory council (RAC) meetings. At open houses, we set up clipboards, listen to suggestions and record the comments of those who come. The priority is to listen to the suggestions and concerns of those who attend, rather than to make a presentation.
From the comments we got, attendees were pleasantly surprised. Most expected a confrontational meeting. Many said they were happy they got to express their views. They appreciated the opportunity to speak one-on-one with a biologist and to share ideas. They were surprised that the biologists were open to their suggestions.
Here’s how it worked: attendees signed in at the front table, where a greeter asked about the issues they were interested in. The greeter then directed our visitors to one of nine tables. We had stations to discuss habitat restoration, highway mortality, general questions, deer management, predator management, law enforcement, and how the public-input process works. We also had a table for habitat enhancement on private lands, but, still that is only eight. Oh, the ninth table was for the refreshments.
At the tables, biologists and conservation officers answered questions and listened to suggestions, which were recorded. In many cases, suggestions from one person prompted a discussion among those listening. The beauty of the system was that people interested in deer management in Utah were able to discuss their ideas with each other in a positive manner. Although there were a lot of divergent ideas, we found many places where we can agree. All agree that something needs to be done and that we need to work together to do it.
So, why did we hold this meeting? Last November, we held RAC meetings in all five regions to discuss a major change in Utah’s deer management. These meetings culminated in the Utah Wildlife Board’s decision to implement a unit-by-unit deer management system. The RAC process was very confrontational. At one point in our RAC meeting, I turned to a good friend, and stated, “Wow, there is a lot of energy in this room! There are a lot of sportsmen here who really care about deer. It is a shame we cannot harness all of this energy and work together and get something done.” Now, I usually don’t speak quite like that, but you get the idea.
My friend represented one of the major conservation groups. He was there to support a recommendation different than the one offered by the Division, yet, he agreed. He reminded me that he has always helped in any way we asked, and that is true. He has always answered the call whenever I have asked. His only desire is to recover the deer herds. On that, we agreed.
Our division director, Jim Karpowitz, has emphasized the need for us to listen to our constituents, build trust with them, and work together to solve this problem. He asked us to hold these open house meetings.
This past week, I returned to my roots for a day. I went back to Canyonlands National Park where I studied desert bighorn sheep to earn my master’s degree. That was a great project. I decided to take a hike and go look for some sheep. A short distance up the canyon, I diverted and went up a ridge. I was trying to get to a high point to glass for bighorn.
Well, I ran into a pour-off and ended up scrambling over some boulders to get past it. At one point, I had to place my foot on a tiny crease in a rock and steady myself before dropping ten feet or so to the ground. As I got ready to jump, the whole side of the hill seemed to slip. Rocks and sand slid downwards, smattering against the cliffs, and red dust filled the air. With a leap of faith, I let go and somehow landed without injury.
As I walked on, I was impressed how this hike was similar to our need for public input. How could I have avoided this tense situation? Well, if someone taller than me was along, maybe they would have seen the danger. Maybe someone else had been there before and wrote a book, warning others. Someone else could have taken a higher route, etc.
The point is, none of us can see everything. We all have different perspectives. To be successful, we must be persistent and continue to persevere and work hard, if we are on the right course. How do we know we are on the right course? I suggest it is by discussing difficult issues openly with those with differing views. Open, honest discussion provides opportunity for the truth to be heard. If it is heard, it can be acted upon.
So what new suggestions came up in our open house? There were a few. One person suggested that all hunters be required to buy a license every year, but only allowed to harvest one buck every five years. Someone else added that we should give youth hunters a two-year waiting period, so that they don’t lose interest. Others suggested ways to encourage removal of coyotes. Almost everyone supported continued habitat restoration and vigilant enforcement of hunting and off-road vehicle rules. One idea we will seriously consider is to split the San Rafael unit from the Manti in the new deer hunting strategy. All in all, we received over four typewritten pages of suggestions. Each one will be evaluated. We will work those we can into our recommendations in the future. I would like to personally thank all who took time to come. We appreciate your efforts and concern for Utah’s deer herds.