Balancing Hill AFB wildlife populations – Annual deer hunt, management key to coexistence

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — For many who live a nd work here in the Rocky Mountains, major benefits include numerous recreational opportunities, abundant wildlife, combined with unique and scenic landscapes.

Many wildlife species naturally inhabit this area of the U.S. and some of those live as fulltime residents on Hill AFB. Therefore, wildlife management has become an integral part of the Air Force mission, especially in minimizing safety hazards, protecting the environment, and improving quality of life for the base’s wildlife and human populations.

Wildlife management

Here, Russ Lawrence, natural resources manager, and Nick Brown, biologist and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Liaison to the base, manage natural resources as well as many wildlife species, fish and animal habitats.

Their primary duties include ensuring that the Air Force meets all Sikes Act requirements, which enhances cooperation between the Department of Defense and Fish and Wildlife Service to promote conservation on military lands while continuing to effectively conduct the military mission. Both meet regularly with managers of the Bird/wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard program—or BASH—to ensure flight safety and occasionally facilitate animal relocation.

According to Lawrence, balancing priorities and resources is necessary in maintaining mission readiness while making the base a better place to work and live.

“It is important for us to manage the base natural resources with urban/industrial interface, and help them to be compatible,” he said.

Brown views wildlife management as a very important task, for all involved.

“The Air Force is required by law to manage this installation’s natural resources, but besides the fact that we are required to do so, it is the right thing to do,” he said.

With the absence of natural predators on base and without a wildlife management plan, deer could easily exceed the carrying capacity of their habitat. In an overpopulation scenario, deer would suffer from inadequate food sources, especially during severe winters. Unchecked, vehicle accidents on base roads would rise and the risk of runway incursions would increase, which are an obvious safety issue for pilots and add unnecessary costs.

The management process begins with multiple visual and remote camera surveys to ascertain the total number of deer, overall animal health, and available habitat. Proactive maintenance of this habitat and the base’s annual archery deer hunt are effective tools used to maintain and enhance deer population on base.

“When you manage wildlife, you also manage the habitat in which they live,” said Brown. “With the deer on base, we also have an archery hunt to allow people an opportunity to harvest a deer, in turn keeping their population at a healthy level.”

For 2017, the base issued 10 archery deer hunt vouchers to assist in keeping the deer population within desired limits.

Annual archery hunt

One of Utah’s most popular recreational opportunities is its annual deer hunt. Because it consistently produces good animal populations, the state has long been considered one of the country’s premier mule deer hunt locations with many trophy animals harvested. For local and non-resident Airmen and Department of Defense civilians, Hill AFB provides a unique opportunity to hunt deer in Utah on an active military base.

This year, Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeff Hopkin, an air traffic controller assigned to the Air National Guard at Kingsley Field, Oregon, drew one of Hill AFB’s hunt vouchers for 2017.

“There are multiple benefits from hunting on a military base versus public land,” he said. “For one, the deer do not receive as much hunting pressure and you’re not shoulder-to-shoulder with 20 other guys. Not including my deer, the base hunt success ratio was 50 percent, which is an amazing number with archery weapons and considering that the average success ratio in many western states is around 25 percent or less.”

The Hill AFB deer hunt seasons coincide with Utah’s general archery buck deer seasons, which run from Aug. 19 through Sept. 15, and the extended archery season, which runs from Sept. 16 through Nov. 30. Priority for Hill AFB deer vouchers is as follows: active duty, guard/reserve, DOD civilians, and general public. Deer hunting takes place in two designated areas, primarily on the base’s northeast side.

Hopkin was able to enjoy several weeks of hunting, sometimes accompanied by a family member, and was successful in harvesting a three-point buck.

“The obvious benefits are, if one is successful, the meat will provide food for your family,” he said. “It can also be a great family activity. We got my father a visitor’s pass, which allowed him to join me while hunting. We had a great time together and created a lasting memory.”

Those interested in obtaining a deer tag for hunting on base, information is available at the following:

Hill AFB iSportsman web page: https://hillafb.isportsman.net/.

Hill AFB Natural Resource Office: 801-777-7652 or nicholas.brown.51@us.af.mil.

State of Utah hunting licenses: https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting-in-utah.