Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Two elk in a field in early August, stripping velvet

Utah Wildlife Board approves updates to Conservation Permit and CWMU programs

Salt Lake City — The Utah Wildlife Board approved a few updates to the Conservation Permit Program and the Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit Program during Thursday's public meeting.

CWMU rule amendments

Two elk in a field in early August, stripping velvet

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources oversees the Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit Program, which allocates hunting permits to private landowners who then provide hunting opportunities to public and private hunters for a variety of wildlife species. The CWMU Program in Utah has opened more than 2 million acres of private land to the public for hunting.

During Thursday's meeting, the wildlife board approved a few updates to the CWMU Program, including:

  • Eliminating under-acreage variances, unless the CWMU is within 90% of the acreage requirements and agrees to allocate an additional permit for each species (to be awarded in the public hunt drawing).
  • Creating strategies and tools to help with management units that include CWMUs that are over objective with elk, which has the potential to negatively impact deer. These strategies and tools include:
    • Allowing all current CWMU permit holders to purchase a second antlerless permit
    • Conducting depredation hunts on a CWMU
    • Requiring CWMUs to form an antlerless harvest plan and report on plan completion progress to the CWMU Advisory Committee
    • Adding emergency antlerless hunts
    • Issuing additional nonmarketable antlerless permits/vouchers to a CWMU

The rule amendments will also clarify the purpose of the CWMU Advisory Committee and provide guidelines for the administration of trade lands. Some of the updates will allow for the addition of noncontiguous land to a CWMU under certain circumstances, including:

  • If the parcel is at least 640 acres
  • The land is within 4 miles of the current core CWMU boundary
  • Noncontiguous lands cannot be used to meet the minimum acreage requirement
  • Noncontiguous lands cannot contain public land

"These rule updates should help with more effectively running the program, and will help clarify things for participants of the program," DWR Private Lands Public Wildlife Coordinator Chad Wilson said.

Learn more about the CWMU Program on the DWR Wild podcast.

Updates to the Conservation Permit Program rule

Conservation permits are offered to conservation and sportsmen's groups who then auction them at banquets, fundraisers and other events. The conservation groups provide 90% of the money raised from these permit sales toward conservation and research projects like habitat enhancement, wildlife transplants, wildlife migration research, installing wildlife guzzlers and deer survival studies. The remaining 10% of the proceeds are retained by the conservation groups to help cover administrative costs.

"Since 2001, conservation permits have generated more than $80 million for conservation work in Utah," DWR Wildlife Section Chief Covy Jones said. "If not for the revenue from these permits, we and our partners would have much less funding to complete high-priority wildlife conservation projects. The conservation and expo permit funding has led to the enhancement of thousands of acres of crucial habitats and the completion of important research to help us better manage big game populations."

The board approved a few updates and clarifications to the Conservation Permit Program rule during Thursday's meeting, including:

  • Removing cougars as a conservation permit species, since permits are no longer required to harvest cougars under legislation passed last year.
  • Changes in the season type and draft order for elk and deer conservation permits.
  • Removing the season-extension variance clause for unit conservation permits.
  • Clarifying that the DWR will notify the Utah Wildlife Board regarding the results of the conservation permit distribution after the conservation permit draft occurs.
  • Reinforcing that conservation groups are required to have both a certificate of registration issued by the DWR and a contract with the DWR in order to sell conservation permits.
  • Allowing a conservation organization to sell a permit to the runner-up bidder when the winning bidder defaults on payment, as long as the original high-bid price is met.
  • Clarifying that retained revenue must be spent in a manner according to the DWR’s strategic plan or consistent with a conservation species management plan.
  • Extending unit conservation bighorn sheep permits through Dec. 31.

The board also approved the allocation of 336 conservation permits for 2025–27, an 18-permit increase from the previous allocation. The number of conservation permits allocated is based on the number of permits available in the public draw. The increase reflects an increase in public draw permits, primarily in elk and pronghorn.

Update on cougar hunting in Utah

In May 2023, new legislation went into effect that allows year-round hunting of cougars with just a hunting or combination license. The new legislation also allows trapping of cougars. Cougars are still designated as protected wildlife and must be checked in at a DWR office. Over the past year, biologists have monitored harvest rates to better determine the effects of the new hunting strategy.

"Most cougar harvest occurs during the winter months, and from the data we've received of cougar harvest, 511 cougars were harvested from May 2023 to May 2024," DWR Game Mammals Coordinator Darren DeBloois said. "From May 2022 to May 2023 — prior to when the legislation went into effect — 512 cougars were harvested. This last year there has also been a decrease in the number of livestock preyed upon by cougars, as well as cougar incidents with people."

At this time, the DWR is not recommending any changes to cougar hunting in Utah and will continue to monitor the harvest of cougars in the state. The board voted to have the DWR look into a possible rule change to allow the sale of untanned hides/pelts for cougars and black bears harvested in Utah.

Other items

The wildlife board also voted to have the DWR look into the possibility of allowing individuals enrolled in the Dedicated Hunter Program to "bank" service hours that are accrued over the required limit so they can count toward the service hours requirement the following year.

You can watch the full meeting on the Utah Department of Natural Resources YouTube Channel.

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