Officials in Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources barely had time to note the news that Dick Carter was mothballing his Utah Wilderness Association before the perennial thorn in their sides was back demanding action on another issue. Carter spent nearly 20 years with the now-defunct UWA, writing, lobbying and, some people say, harassing the state's wildlife managers about issues as varied as bear baiting, sandhill crane hunting and cougar hounding.
Now, Carter is at it again, harassing
those same people about a project that's killing foxes and raccoons
in his own back yard.
The state wildlife agency,
at the direction of the state Legislature, has funded a project
that calls for killing every mammalian predator on study sites in
Sevier and Cache counties in an effort to improve pheasant hunting.
The federal agency, Animal Damage Control, will kill every fox,
raccoon and skunk in the study areas; Utah State University
researchers will monitor the ecological
Carter says the project is the
vestige of a predator-killing era that should be long gone, and any
scientific data that might come of it will do nothing more than
reflect research already done 25 years ago. He is irate, he says
that state wildlife managers, Utah State scientists and pheasant
hunters themselves would not stand up to the state Legislature and
say, "No, the mass slaughter of foxes is not the answer for
anything, even if a couple of pheasant eggs survive."
State officials defend the project by saying the
Legislature directed them to spend $70,000 each year for the next
five years to control predators on upland game habitat. If there is
any finger-pointing to be done, they say it should be in the
direction of legislators who wrote the bill.
Mitchell, upland game coordinator for the state wildlife agency,
says he has often told legislators that improving habitat is the
key to boosting pheasant populations. But State Rep. Brad Johnson
has heard that pitch before and he's not buying it. "The problem is
predators," he says.
Johnson says he's tired of
listening to wildlife biologists tell him habitat is the problem on
his home turf. The habitat has not changed significantly in the 61
years he has lived in Sevier Valley, he says; what's changed is
that there now are more foxes, skunks and raccoons, and they're
decimating the pheasant populations.
(wildlife managers) go to college and are trained as biologists and
come back and tell us what we're seeing with our eyes. Some of
these people are more emotionally involved than scientifically
involved," Johnson says.
Carter's eyes see the
situation differently. If you want to watch pheasant predators on
the prowl, he says, take a drive through the rural parts of the
state in the spring and watch as farmers burn ditch banks and mow
the edges of their fields. Certainly predators take their share of
birds at dinnertime - that's what predators do, he adds. But other
factors significantly dent the populations: disease, weather,
hunters, poachers, and habitat loss.
most of his ire for researchers at Utah State University; he is an
alumnus of the school's College of Natural Resources. He says the
study uses sledgehammer methods - trapping and shooting - in hopes
it will produce a few more pheasants to shoot, and it's biased by
the assumption that pheasants are more important than
"The point of this "study" is not science.
It is ... to simply kill predators to see what happens," Carter
wrote to the dean of the natural resources
Utah State researcher Mike Conover says
his role is to answer factual questions, not debate whether the
Legislature made the right decisions.
five-year study, he points out, will address the importance of
habitat fragmentation, predator rates on ground-nesting birds, and
cost/benefit ratios about predator control as it relates to
increasing pheasant populations.
"At the end of
our study, we will be able to say, "You spent this much money and
here are the consequences." It's up to society and the state
Legislature to say, "Yeah, this is a good expenditure of state
funds, or no, it's a waste of money," "''''Conover
That's exactly the attitude that angers
Carter. Scientists cannot hide quietly behind a
"quest-for-knowledge" badge of academia in an attempt to wash their
hands of the slaughter of wild animals, he says. They are part of
the problem, whether they want to admit it or not, and they're
kidding themselves if they think the public is going to let them
take that easy way out.
"The study is published
by Mike Conover and USU. Somebody who likes blood a little more
than he does will do the actual killing," Carter says. "But the
killing is on his shoulders and the blood of the study is in
Conover's report and Conover's statistics."
kind of emotional language twists the role of USU researchers,
Conover says. It assumes he and his team are killing predators in
order to have the study. In fact, no one at USU is killing any
predators, and he says it is only because the Legislature mandated
the predator control program in the first place that any study is
Researchers have to be objective; they
have to be non-advocates, and this controversy is perfect proof of
why, Conover adds. Does Carter think one more opinion will change
the Legislature's stance? "Opinion is not going to satisfy (Rep.)
Brad Johnson," he says. Good scientific data that either supports
Johnson's position or Dick Carter's position
"He (Johnson) says he has to be "proven
wrong," and there's only one way to prove him either right or wrong
and that's to do a study."
For more information,
contact Dick Carter in Hyrum, Utah, at 801/245-6747; Dean Mitchell
of Division of Wildlife Resources at 801/538-4786; Mike Conover of
Utah State at 801/797-2436; or State Rep. Brad Johnson at
The writer works in
Salt Lake City.