The Utah Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Wildlife Resources renewed their Hunter Access Agreement with the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. The contract keeps 3.4 million acres of Utah trust lands open to hunters and anglers as well as those interested in viewing wildlife.
Trust lands are held in trust for state institutions designated by Congress. Nearly 96% of Utah’s trust lands are managed for the financial benefit of the K - 12 public education system. The remaining lands benefit Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, state hospitals, colleges, universities and other state institutions.
Mike Styler, the Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources said compromises had to be made for the agreement, but everyone is pleased with the results.
“We both had our constituencies that we had to represent,” Styler said. “Of course our constituencies are the public because the public expects these lands to be open. The trust lands administration, they have the beneficiaries which are the school children, and those beneficiaries expect as much money as they can raise for the schools. We both tried to do our best for our respective constituents. I think we were able to do that.”
Under the agreement, trust land beneficiaries receive an annual payment of $1.8 million for access to the land. The Utah State Legislature has committed $1 million per year of ongoing general funds and the DWR will pay the remaining balance.
“It’s really a win-win situation where the school children benefit because now this outdoor classroom is preserved for them,” Styler said. “They can have access as well as the wildlife viewing and hunting groups. There’s also a lot of angling, a lot of fishing on these streams that go through these SITLA properties. This is really a win-win proposition and we’re very pleased that we’re able to enter into a new 15-year agreement."
Styler said his department can also continue to improve the habitats for wildlife on these public lands.
“We go out on these trust lands and do habitat improvement projects, we do stream restoration projects,” Styler said. “We’re trying to build better herds of deer and elk and antelope, better fisheries and as that product improves it provides more. As more and more land has the no trespassing signs go up, this is a refuge for those who want to have a place to go. This is very valuable because public access nationwide seems to be decreasing and here we are maintaining it and maintaining the value of the land.”
For example, a project in Box Elder County including re-seeding, tearing out dead trees and other efforts have new sage grouse populations moving into the area. Styler says Utah State University has seen positive studies of the area with new broods of sage grouse chicks.