You may have recently heard about the man who bought tags from the Utah Division of Wildlife Services then was fined after Utah discovered he had violated Alaska hunting laws. As a result, you may be wondering how wildlife law works, how you can avoid a similar situation, and where to find more information about Utah wildlife law.
What is wildlife?. When in doubt, look to the Utah statutes to define wildlife. In Utah, wildlife includes vertebrate (organisms with spines), crustaceans (shrimp, crawdads), mollusks, and animals living in nature, except for feral animals. Feral animals is an ambiguous term that can include stray dogs, wild hogs, or other domesticated or invasive animals. So, if it is alive and not a domestic animal, it is either a feral animal or wildlife. Game animals, such as elk, moose, mountain goat, buffalo, and mule deer, are considered “protected wildlife.”
Wildlife ownership. Wildlife is managed by each state, regardless of where the wildlife is located within the state. For example, the elk herd on Monroe Mountain is managed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources even when the herd is living in Fishlake National Forest. If the federal government becomes interested in a wildlife species such as through the Endangered Species Act, the wildlife species is then owned and managed by the federal government. For example, the federal decision to not list the sage grouse was a negotiation between states and the federal government. By not listing the sage grouse, the states maintained control over the species management. If the species had been listed, its populations and habitat would be managed by the federal government.
Regulation of wildlife. Each states’ Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), or equivalent, regulates wildlife management and wildlife conservation. Utah DWR manages wildlife on state, private, and federal lands with the purpose of maintaining population management, administering hunting tags, and enforcing wildlife laws. If you break a wildlife law, you may attend an administrative hearing with DWR to protect your hunting license.
State crimes against wildlife. As you probably already know, you cannot kill protected wildlife out of season. You also cannot keep protected wildlife captive. You are also not allowed to use a remotely controlled computer device, such as a drone, to aim or discharge a firearm or weapon while hunting. Poaching, remote firing, or keeping protected wildlife captive can result in a Class B Misdemeanor crime and an administrative hearing with DWR where your hunting license may be suspended for a period of time.
Federal crimes against wildlife. Black market trade of protected species; or harvesting, killing, or permanently damaging endangered or protected species, can cost you fines, jail time, and restoration expenses. Further, these crimes can ban you from owning firearms or permanently suspend your state hunting licenses. Lastly, unlike state crimes, only the President of the United States can pardon your federal crime and erase it from your record.
If you didn’t draw a tag for your trophy elk this year and still want an excuse to find wildlife, Utah DWR provides guidelines to seasons for fishing, antlerless tags, upland game and turkey, waterfowl, and furbearers. You can also consider animal photography (make sure you have permission of the landowner or federal agency), or birding. The Audubon Society in Utah is very active due to the diverse landscape and flyways along our saline lakes.
Disclaimer. As always, my column is not legal advice, instead merely insight into the law and legal profession. If you have a general question about the law or legal profession, please email me at email@example.com or call 435.610.1431.