ST. GEORGE — After receiving overwhelming support in both legislative chambers, a bill requiring the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to notify private landowners before removing wildlife from their property will soon land on the governor’s desk.
Wildlife Amendments, designated as HB 109 in the 2021 Legislature, is sponsored by Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding. The bill will amend section 23-13-6 of the Utah Code, which currently grants authority to the Utah DWR to “take wildlife of any kind from any place and in any manner for purposes deemed by the director to be in the interest of wildlife conservation.”
Once HB 109 is signed into law, the Utah DWR will be required to deliver notice to an affected landowner, either in writing or orally, before the taking of wildlife on privately owned land. The division may take the wildlife immediately afterward or at a time reasonably required for the taking after delivering notice. However, the notice requirements would not apply in a situation when the wildlife in question poses a threat to public safety or exigent circumstances exist. Lyman told St. George News the bill has the full support of the Utah DWR and Utah Division of Natural Resources.
HB 109 passed unanimously in the Utah House. The final vote tally on the Utah Senate floor was 22-3-4. Southern Utah Sens. Evan J. Vickers, R-Cedar City, and Derrin R. Owens, R-Fountain Green, voted in favor of the bill while David P. Hinkins, R-Ferron, voted in opposition. Sen. Don L. Ipson, R-St. George, was among those absent or not voting.
In a meeting of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee on Feb. 4, Lyman introduced HB 109, which he dubbed “Sadie’s bill.” Sadie is a deer shot by a Utah DWR conservation officer a little over a year ago in the small town of Antimony.
The incident occurred at the home of Cole Montague and his family, where Sadie had been living for the past two years. Montague rescued the deer after her mother ran into the side of his pickup truck on the highway while carrying two unborn fawns. He was able to remove the fawns from the dead deer’s womb and took them home to receive care.
The other fawn did not survive, but Sadie thrived and spent much of her early life on Montague’s property, becoming accustomed to people and dogs. She also roamed around town and was a familiar sight to Antimony’s roughly 120 residents.
On Jan. 8, 2020, the Utah DWR officer responded to a report filed through the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office of Sadie injuring a dog. The officer located the deer on Montague’s property and attempted to capture and secure her with a rope. When that failed, he drew a firearm in order to euthanize the deer. He shot Sadie once in the face, but she survived and ran away. The officer eventually left the property after failing to locate her again.
During an interview days after the incident, Montague told St. George News that Sadie had been found and was recovering well from the gunshot wound. He said the conservation officer was “out of line” for entering his property without permission, shooting the deer and leaving her to suffer.
The Utah DWR met with sheriffs from Garfield and Piute counties in Antimony on Jan. 13, 2020 to discuss the incident and the gap in communication between the division and local law enforcement. Although the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office was still investigating the report of Sadie injuring a dog, they were not notified that a conservation officer had been dispatched to remove the deer.
The incident also spurred Lyman, whose purview as the representative for House District 73 includes Garfield County, to introduce “Sadie’s bill” in the later stages of the 2020 Legislature. The bill passed with a unanimous vote in the House, but ultimately was not read by a Senate committee soon enough and was tabled.
Justin Shirley, chief of law enforcement for the Utah DWR, told St. George News that the officer was following the rules and procedures in place at the time. Following the incident, the division reviewed their practices and implemented a new policy relating to captive or human-habituated wildlife similar to the requirements detailed in HB 109. Shirley said the division’s goal is to improve communication with local property owners and other agencies.
“The officer attempted to make contact with the family at that time and was unable to,” he said. “With this new policy, we would not have taken action until we had at least talked to the homeowner or landowner prior to making those decisions.”
However, it may not have changed the outcome in Sadie’s case. Shirley said that although she was friendly and obviously tame when approached by the officer, subsequent interviews about the incident that was reported to the division turned up consistent information of the deer having injured a dog.
Across the state, the Utah DWR responds to an average of 20 nuisance and dangerous wildlife calls every day. These calls are taken very seriously, Shirley said.
Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins told St. George News that after Sadie’s shooting, negotiations with the Utah DWR were civil and he harbors no animosity toward the division. He attended the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee hearing earlier this month to speak in support of HB 109.
“In my view, the authority given to a DWR officer involving wildlife was pretty broad,” he said. “It simply modifies their law enforcement capabilities to what I operate on.”
Meanwhile, Sadie has disappeared from Antimony. Her current whereabouts are unknown, Perkins said, adding that she no longer visits the town or Montague’s property. He received reports that she was spotted in the area during mating season last year, but these sightings were unable to be verified because she looks just like many other deer.
HB 109 was sent to the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel for enrolling earlier this week. Next, it will move to the desk of Gov. Spencer Cox for signature.
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