Utah Looking to Ban Night Vision Devices and Types of Trail Camera Use: Here’s Why

by Jennifer Shea

Utah’s Wildlife Board is mulling a ban on night vision devices and a change to how trail cameras are used during hunting season.

On Thursday, the board postponed a decision on new rules proposed by Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources, KSL.com reports. The new rules will be voted on at a later meeting on a date yet to be determined.

DWR officials had drafted new rules outlawing night vision devices. They also banned transmitting trail camera footage from July 31 to Jan. 31. During those months, hunters would be barred from using trail cameras to locate big game. It would also be illegal to sell, distribute or store trail camera footage for the purpose of harvesting big game animals.

Utah Hunters Say Both Devices Challenge Hunting Ethics

The board postponed the decision one day after the DWR announced its proposed rules and the board began to accept public comments on them. DWR spokeswoman Faith Heaton Jolley told KSL.com that the board is putting comments on the trail camera rule on hold so officials can study the matter.

Roughly 62% of more than 2,000 Utah hunters surveyed about the new rule said they objected to the use of transmitting trail camera footage in real-time during hunting season, the DWR said.

Covy Jones, the big game coordinator for Utah’s DWR, said both night vision devices and trail cameras challenge the boundaries of hunting ethics. And as the cost of the equipment has dropped in recent years, both devices have become popular. That’s made their use a hot-button issue among Utah hunters.

“Overwhelmingly, the sentiment is that using [night vision devices] does not align with fair chase. And there’s a strong sentiment that the animal needs to have a chance. And fair chase is just that,” Jones told KSL.com this week.

Other States Have Moved to Ban Use of Trail Cameras for Hunting

Utah is not alone. This summer, Arizona’s Game and Fish Commission banned the use of all trail cameras for hunting. It is a statewide, year-round ban.

Driving the commissioners’ decision were fair chase concerns. They also noticed hunter-on-hunter conflicts over camera placement. (The population of hunters there has surged amid a drought that has limited game movement to water sources.)

Ranchers and recreational hikers had also objected to the proliferation of trail cameras. Ranchers said the cameras and the people who frequently showed up to check them interrupted the natural movement of wildlife that depend on scarce water sources. The cameras are often placed near the water. Hikers, meanwhile, worried about their personal privacy.

“What this issue comes down to for me is the issue of fair chase,” Commissioner Clay Hernandez of Tucson said in a statement. “It comes down to a question of passive surveillance or active surveillance. If we are out scouting, glassing, hiking or shed hunting, we are out in the habitat. And we are providing scent, movement, patterns and sound, all of which the animals we are seeking or scouting can make use of with their resources and instincts. If we are not out there and it is just a camera, we are silent. It is that that I don’t believe constitutes fair chase.”

Whether more states join Arizona, and now possibly Utah, remains to be seen. But those devices are getting ever cheaper and easy to acquire. So the issue is not going away anytime soon.