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The Utah Farm Bureau Federation and the Utah Wool Growers Association are taking aim at environmentalists who challenge the predator-killing of the federal Animal Damage Control program.

The two organizations say environmentalists are trying to run ranchers out of business.A press release faxed to the Deseret News on Wednesday by the Farm Bureau is headlined, "Environmentalists Trying to Destroy Sheep Industry Say Farmers."

It quotes Lee Jarvis, Spanish Fork, member of a Farm Bureau committee and president of the Wool Growers, as condemning actions the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has taken against predator control.

"We see this as an attempt by SUWA to force sheep producers off of the public lands, plain and simple," Jarvis said.

"This is the second time in the past six months that these radical environmentalists have tried to block proven predator management efforts, and fits right in with the stated plans of the leaders of this movement to rid public lands of livestock by 1993."

Jarvis was referring to a suit SUWA filed in federal court about Dixie National Forest, and now an appeal the Utah Wilderness Association has filed about coyote killing in the Bureau of Land Management's Vernal District.

The Forest Service agreed to refrain from having the ADC kill coyotes on Dixie National Forest until a hearing in the suit, now set for April 30. In the Vernal District, Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan derailed the usual process, taking control of the appeal personally.

Lujan took the association's suit away from the Interior Board of Land Appeals, where it had been headed, and said he would decide the issue himself. Meanwhile, he said, coyote-killing can continue there.

Jarvis probably would be even more incensed if he knew that both UWA and SUWA filed an appeal on predator killing in Fishlake National Forest; SUWA's appeal came on Saturday.

In addition, last month five national environmental groups, including SUWA, said they will sue the ADC for failing to protect endangered species.

Jarvis said that while the UWA appeal halted shooting in the Vernal District in January and February, there were more than 400 confirmed sheep kills by predators - "many times more than the numbers normally lost in the same time frame."

Jarvis said ranchers "will use whatever means we can come up with to stand up to this challenge, protect our livelihoods and repel the actions of an organization that seems to be intent on destroying the traditions of the West, our rural families and way of life."

But SUWA's lawyer, Stephen Koteff, says, "I think the sheep industry characteristically looks at any effort to question the effectiveness of ADC as an attempt to kick the ranchers off public land.

"That's not really what's happening at all. What we said in our lawsuit is, Let's see some data that show that this (aerial shooting) is effective. Let's see a demonstrated need for this project," he said.

"And until we see that, we don't think that the fact that a few ranchers on the Dixie are claiming they need the ADC is a good enough reason to kill wildlife," Koteff added.

He says the bottom line is really money - taxpayers and wildlife subsidizing the ranchers.

"Nowhere do we see any kind of analysis of that situation. All we have are ranchers claiming that they need something," Koteff said.

Even if some predator control is needed to preserve ranching on public land - and federal laws encourage both the control and the ranching - that doesn't mean the ADC should indiscriminately slaughter wildlife.

The ADC has turned in a sorry record. As this column mentioned earlier, the ADC reports that in 1989 its hunters and trappers killed 5,279 animals in Utah alone, including nearly 5,000 coyotes, 28 mountain lions, 35 bears and an admitted 200 other "non-target" animals.

That's a shocking depredation. The ADC has too free a hand. It's time someone called it to account.

Today Americans generally respect wildlife and have a humane approach to nature. The days are gone when government agents were the maidservants, and public land the playground, of cattle barons, mining companies, railroads, highway-builders and everybody else who wanted to use them for profit.

Times are changing. People are demanding reasonable, measured service by government agencies. But change also can be messy. It is often accompanied by unfair accusations, lawsuits, pressure tactics and back door actions.

In the end, it's doubtful that anyone actually will be run off the land or that the environmentalists will be intimidated.

But a new balance will be struck.