LAYTON -- For the moment, the bighorn sheep and mule deer on Antelope Island can stop looking over their shoulders.
The hunt has yet to begin.
Utah Division of Natural Resources officials have not announced a timetable for implementing a new hunting program that was approved earlier this month by state lawmakers on the last day of the Utah legislative session.
The details of an extended hunting program, allowing hunters a chance at bagging two more species, were not part of the legislation.
UDNR Director Mike Styler said it is likely four permits will be issued per year and the proceeds reinvested into habitat on the island.
Part of the holdup to opening the season is that Gov. Gary Herbert has yet to sign off on the entire budget, which will formally start the process.
The idea of extending the hunting availability on Antelope Island has been floated several times in the last decade but failed to gain support -- until this year.
The Davis County Chamber of Commerce and other entities strongly lobbied lawmakers to stop the current proposal, which originated at the suggestion of Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, and was initially approved by a legislative appropriations subcommittee.
"It's devastating," said Barbara Riddle, Davis Area Convention and Visitors Bureau president.
Opponents of the hunt, like Riddle, contend the animals and the atmosphere on the island are a unique draw to visitors, and that further hunting doesn't fit there. Riddle and others repeatedly tried to persuade lawmakers to derail the idea.
Lawmakers, like Noel, said the additional revenue was too tempting as state leaders considered cuts throughout Utah while drawing up the two-year state budget.
Antelope Island already holds an annual bison hunt, with five to six bulls taken per year. Styler supported the extended hunting legislation.
"The bison hunt has not had a public perception problem since the hunt takes place discreetly at a time of year when few visitors are around, and park employees help to supervise," Styler wrote to the Standard-Examiner earlier this month in response to questions about the plan.
The limited hunt of two more animals is expected to bring in $200,000 or more as hunters pay big bucks to go big-game hunting.
Two of the permits would be raffled off in a public draw in the next year.
Styler predicted the legislative plan will be a one-year "experiment" and left to the Utah Division of Wildlife and Utah State Parks to work out the details.
Riddle said, "There is a limited number of animals that are 'trophy-size' on the island. Once they come out and shoot them, it's going to be an average herd."
A UDNR spokesperson says programmatic decisions about the Island hunt have not been made.