The Canyonlands Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation will hold their seventh annual fundraising banquet at the Hoodoo Moab on Feb. 29 at 5:30 p.m., raising money for management projects that benefit deer and their habitat.
The Mule Deer Foundation was founded in 1988 with the mission of ensuring the conservation of mule deer and black-tailed deer and their habitat. The organization has grown and now has chapters in 24 states.
“Everything we do has to do with wildlife,” said Troy Brooks, chairman of the Canyonlands Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation.
Many MDF members are hunters, but Brooks said the group welcomes anyone interested in wildlife stewardship.
“We have avid hunters that are out there for every season; we have just the everyday guy that goes when he can afford it; we have people that never have hunted,” said Brooks. “We have people that don’t hunt, but they like to fish so they want to keep the land open. It’s pretty much a wide variety of people that come to us.”
He added that some employees of land management agencies also attend the banquet fundraisers.
Brooks said the group partners with federal and state land management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the State Division of Wildlife Resources, and the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, as well as other nonprofit groups like Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. They contribute to projects like chipping vegetation in dense areas to create grazing openings for deer and elk, installing “guzzlers,” or water troughs, for wildlife, putting in new fencing or removing outdated fencing and opening springs or enclosing existing springs to protect them from cattle.
“We’re all hooked together to try to get these projects to keep open area for the wildlife, keep good water and grazing for them,” Brooks said of the partnerships among the organizations.
Faith Jolley, the public information officer for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, agreed that the MDF has been an effective partner.
“Since 2006, the Mule Deer Foundation, through local chapter funds, conservation permit funds, and organization funds, have contributed over $694,000 to 52 Watershed Restoration Initiative projects in Grand and San Juan counties,” Jolley said. “These funds, in combination with funds from numerous other partners, have contributed to improving habitat for wildlife on over 58,000 acres.”
Currently, Jolley said, MDF funding is being used for six habitat projects in the La Sal and San Juan DWR hunting units.
“We greatly value and appreciate our partnership with the Mule Deer Foundation,” Jolley said.
The annual banquet is one of the group’s major fundraising events of the year. A ticket for a single person is $75 and includes a Mule Deer Foundation membership and dinner for one. An “Executive Table” costs $1500 and includes dinner for eight, as well as four memberships, $320 in raffle tickets and 24 “grand prize” tickets.
Raffle prizes include fishing poles, camping gear, guns, jewelry and tools. Available for auction are four prized big game hunting tags: a multi-season bear tag for the La Sal Mountains, a multi-season elk tag the La Sal Mountains, a South Book Cliffs pronghorn hunt with any weapon, and a San Juan Elk Ridge muzzle-loader buck tag. These hunting permits are “limited entry,” and Brooks said it can take 10 to 15 years for a hunter to be awarded one of these prized tags by lottery.
“Last year, those four tags averaged around $70,000 at our banquet,” Brooks said.
The money from the tags goes to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Brooks explained, and is then allocated for wildlife projects.
“80% of it comes back on the ground in the state of Utah,” Brooks said. “And 60% of that $70,000 – we, as the Mule Deer Foundation, get to say where the DWR will use it.”
Though the event is designed to raise money and tickets have a substantial price tag, Brooks said the atmosphere is casual, as is the dress code.
“If it was suits and gowns, I wouldn’t go,” he said. “I live in Wranglers.”
The headcount of the banquet is limited to 250 people. Up until this year, the event was held at the Grand Center and the limit was 180 people. Brooks said tickets will be sold as long as there are any available. He added that they are usually sold out this close to the banquet, but the larger venue has allowed for some wiggle room.
“We’re not sold out yet, but we’re getting there!” he warned. “If they want tickets they’d better hurry!”