Winter season opens Dec. 10 at the Hardware Wildlife Management Area; sleigh rides canceled due to drought impacts and other changes announced
Hyrum — Drought this past spring and summer led to some of the lowest hay production ever at the Hardware Wildlife Management Area, and that's forced the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to make some tough decisions and changes at the WMA for the winter season.
Brucellosis, a disease that causes cow elk to abort their young, has been found in several states, including Wyoming and Idaho. DWR biologists need some of the limited hay to lure elk into a trapping facility at the WMA this winter, so work can be done to monitor for brucellosis. Managers also need to keep a surplus of hay available in case the winter gets severe and they need to feed elk to try to keep some of the animals out of nearby ranchers' hay supplies.
There isn't enough hay this year to do both of those things while also keeping enough hay on the ground to lure elk for horse-drawn sleigh rides through the elk herd. For those reasons, the DWR will not offer sleigh rides through the elk herd this winter.
The massive trapping and disease testing program happening at the WMA this winter likely won't happen to the same extent next winter.
"Not needing to trap as many elk next winter should free up a bunch of hay that we can use next year to bring elk onto the meadow where the sleigh rides are held," Hardware WMA Manager Brad Hunt said. "We hope to be able to offer sleigh rides again in the winter of 2022–23. If we get enough snow and rain over the next few months, hay production should be good, and we should be able to offer sleigh rides again in the future."
However, you should still be able to see elk at the WMA this winter, and the newly named Hardware Wildlife Education Center will have more displays and activities than ever before.
A total of 280 tons of hay are needed to feed elk and horses on the WMA for 10 weeks. This year — because of severe drought conditions — only 50 tons of hay were produced for use this winter. The DWR was able to buy some additional hay before prices increased and hay became hard to find, but not enough to allow for a 10-week sleigh ride season.
"Rather than offer sleigh rides for a few weeks — and then have to end them abruptly — we've decided to not offer sleigh rides this year," Hunt said. "Part of the hay that would have been used to bring elk onto the meadow where the sleigh rides are typically held will instead be used to get elk into the WMA's trapping facility to do essential disease testing."
DWR biologists want to place tracking collars on 50 calf elk — 25 males and 25 females — this winter. Tracking the collared animals, plus additional elk that have been collared in past years, will help biologists know if elk from Hardware are coming into contact with elk from brucellosis-positive areas. They also need to trap at least 40 additional cow elk to do health checks and verify if there are any cases of brucellosis currently in Utah.
Any hay not used to lure elk to the trapping facility will be held in reserve to feed elk if winter conditions get severe.
"We want to help the elk while also minimizing the number that might try to make their way from the WMA to nearby agricultural areas where they could cause damage or eat hay meant for livestock," Hunt said.
New activities and displays in the Education Center
If you've visited the education center — formerly called the visitor center — during past winter seasons, get ready for a new experience. A multi-year renovation to improve the facility is underway.
"The center will be much brighter this winter," Hardware WMA Interpretive Director Marni Lee said. "We're putting new paint on the walls and installing new lighting. New displays and activities will also be offered this year."
- Special activities for children will be offered at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. every day the center is open.
- An interactive display will allow visitors to touch the fur of various animals in Utah as you learn more about them.
- Two new displays — one that will teach you more about the amazing distances wildlife in Utah migrate, and one on loan from the Natural History Museum of Utah titled "Wildlife All Around Us" — will be on display throughout the winter season.
- Education Center staff will have 10 pairs of binoculars and two indoor spotting scopes on hand. You can borrow the binoculars and the scopes to get great views of elk from the center. The center sits on a hill that overlooks the meadow where the sleigh rides are normally held.
When people think about the WMA, the first and sometimes the only thing that comes to mind is the "ranch" portion of the WMA — the small area that includes the education center and the meadow in which the sleigh rides are held. Many are surprised to learn the Hardware WMA actually encompasses more than 14,000 acres. Except for portions that are closed to protect wildlife and habitat, the WMA is open year-round to visit and explore.
"Hardware is one of Cache County's greatest treasures," Hunt said. "Changing its name to the Hardware WMA is a subtle change but one we hope will help people better understand and appreciate all the WMA has to offer."
Directions and hours
Starting Dec. 10, the education center at the WMA will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Feb. 13 is the last day to visit the education center for the winter season.
You can reach the Hardware WMA by traveling 16 miles east of Hyrum on state Route 101 through Blacksmith Fork Canyon.