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Elk Hunt Set Amid Hiking Venues
Wednesday, June 19, 2002


Hikers and mountain bikers will share the trail with rifle-packing hunters if an early elk season in Mill Creek and Lambs canyons proceeds as planned.
Six months after winter bowhunting caused an uproar along the Wasatch Front, the Utah Wildlife Board approved a rifle cow elk hunt for Aug. 3-16 -- the peak of hiking season.
"It's ridiculous," says Mike Maughan, a rifle and bow hunter who wants to see the season pushed back to at least November. "They need to do it later. In August, everyone is in that [Mill Creek] canyon."
The region -- bordered by Interstate 80 and Interstate 215 -- has been closed to rifle hunting for years due to recreational traffic and development. The southern border of the hunt area runs along Desolation Lake Trail, one of the most popular mountain bike trails in Utah.
Even so, some of the elk have got to go and August is the best time to put hunters in the area, says Steve Cranney, state big game biologist. There is little winter range available for this roughly 250-strong herd, so wildlife officials are taking aim at 45 surplus animals -- with 45 hunters -- hoping the early season will keep hunters at altitudes above the heaviest hiking and biking traffic.
The region is a prize hunting area for archers, but bowhunters typically are better at scaring animals than killing them. Rifles are the answer to keeping the herd in check, Cranney said.
"There's plenty of places in that area away from people," Cranney said. "This hunt is designed to put the hunters at the highest elevation, away from recreational areas."
Fat chance, Maughan countered.
"It's high-use time with hikers, bikers and dogs," Maughan said. "If shots start ringing out, people are going to be uncomfortable. . . . It's a safety concern."
Maughan also doubts that hunters will out-climb hikers in what is largely roadless backcountry.
"I know of few cow elk hunters that would hike into the rough country off the trails and road," he said.
Utahns can let hunters kill the elk now or deal with the problems they cause next winter, Cranney said.
But Larry Smith of Salt Lake Archery fears public backlash will end all hunting in the prized archery hunting region east of Mill Creek Canyon. "Residents along the Front are upset about people hunting there, period."
Two years ago, the area was opened in October for shotguns and muzzleloaders, but the season was promptly cancelled because of public complaints. Maughan expects a similar backlash now.
"It's just going to be a mess," Maughan said. "Not to mention it's a terrible time to try and hunt and take care of meat -- in the heat."
Hunters must be sensitive to other forest users, Cranney said, but it has to work both ways. "I understand we are mixing gas and water [but] there are a lot of people who just don't like [any] hunting," he said. "They don't like rifles, they don't like archery."