Slow death in Antelope Island bison hunt stirs anger

Dec 8 2010 - 12:35am

ANTELOPE ISLAND -- A large bison slowly dying after being hit with two arrows is inhumane, says a Syracuse man who witnessed such an incident while hiking Monday on Antelope Island.

A local lawmaker is hoping the incident will get the state Legislature to reconsider allowing big-pay hunts in the state park to raise revenues.

Hunters armed with their choice of bow and arrow or gun participated in the annual bison hunt Monday, with six bison permits issued by the state, officials confirmed.

"Why torture (the animals)?" Syracuse resident Robert Price said of what he witnessed.

From 150 yards, Price said, he looked on as the wounded bison ran from hunters and through one of the island campgrounds north of Buffalo Point.

"Fortunately, there wasn't a busload of kids there," Price said.

Before leaving, Price logged a complaint about what he witnessed at the Antelope Island Visitor Center.

"I have a little bit of a problem with high-paid hunts on an animal sanctuary," said Price, who is a hunter.

Price also contacted Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, about the incident.

Ray said he promised Price he would do all he could during the upcoming legislative session to put a stop to the island hunts.

Antelope Island State Park Manager Ron Taylor confirmed that Monday was the annual bison hunt on the island, in which the hunter is accompanied by a state park ranger.

The hunts are held at this time each year, Taylor said, because there are fewer island visitors and there are no school field trips scheduled for the day.

The Division of Wildlife Resources issues annually six hunting permits for island bison at a cost of $1,105 per permit for a state resident and $2,610 for a nonresident.

The money from the permits goes back into the island's wildlife management program, Taylor said.

Bison hunts on the island are a tradition, Taylor said, and as a result of a mandate by the Legislature in 2010, those hunts will be expanded in 2011 to include two permits for both the island mule deer and California bighorn sheep.

The mandate appears to be contrary to public sentiment.

"In preparing the resource management plan for Antelope Island, the public has continually stated recreational hunting is inappropriate on the island," Taylor said.

When the island bison hunts began in the 1980s, DWR was asked to put together a management plan for the island along with Utah State Parks and Recreation, said Lt. Scott Davis, who works in the DWR Ogden office.

DWR does not manage the bison herd on Antelope Island, where it is considered to be a domestic herd, akin to a cattle herd, said DWR Big Game Program Coordinator Anis Aoude.

But DWR does handle the process in which the hunting permits are drawn, Aoude said, where state parks does not have that mechanism in place.

Davis referred to Monday's incident as "unfortunate."

"I don't like to see what happened (Monday)," he said. But as many years as they have had hunts on the island, Davis said, this is the first time they have received a complaint.

"It's part of hunting. We all try to kill the animal in a humane way," he said.

Even when a hunter uses a gun on a bison, because it is such a large animal, Davis said, it can lend itself to the animal being injured before being killed.

"You try to do your very best to have a humane kill on animals, and it was unfortunate that Price had to witness that," he said.

Davis said he recognizes the island hunts are controversial and believes resolving the issue may come down to simply allowing the majority to rule.

Ray said he, along with the Davis County delegation of lawmakers, led the fight during the 2010 legislative session to oppose hunting on Antelope Island.

"We fought like heck. We also felt there was a better way to raise money," Ray said of the hunts that officials are projecting will raise about $200,000 in permit fees for the state with the addition of the hunts for the mule deer and California bighorn sheep.

"People come to see these trophy animals, and we're selling them off," Ray said of the island being marketed as a tourist destination.

He said he is surprised the expanded island hunts were included as part of the state's overall budget.

"We have a bison running through the park with two arrows in it. How dangerous is a wounded animal?" Ray said. "Talk about liability to the state.

"We've got to do something. We can't have injured animals roaming around where the public is."

However, closing the island to the public while the hunts occur does not appear to be a viable option.

The state doesn't close forest lands to visitors when hunts occur in the forest, Aoude said.

"It's not unsafe," Aoude said of the island hunts posing a public threat. He said it is not as though the state allows a thousand hunters out there.

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