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LET’S CREDIT DWR PROBLEMS WHERE DUE - THE GOVERNOR

SHARE LET’S CREDIT DWR PROBLEMS WHERE DUE - THE GOVERNOR

At some point it's got to stop . . . and it will. Maybe too late.

A few observations.One, the removal of Clair Jensen as manager in the Southern Region is part of a bigger picture, not because of a letter his staff wrote and he signed supporting a list of waters being looked at as Wild and Scenic.

It seems that in all this confusion of removals and reorganization within the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, someone apparently forgot to pass on to regional chiefs or anyone else this administration's policy on Wild and Scenic Rivers. He made a management decision, which he had been encouraged to do.

Also in question is who saw the letter. Regional staff say the letter was handed to Randy Moon, assistant director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, who looked at it and passed on with no comment. Approval? Certainly you'd believe so.

Moon says he didn't see the letter, but was told of its existence while visiting the region.

A very unfortunate situation. Someone's lying.

In any case, grounds for removal are weak, at best. But then maybe Ted Stewart, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, believes there are reasons . . . or, at least, the opportunity.

But to do what? There's no question that all this reorganization has hurt the caretakers of our state's wildlife. But, no one can fully assess the damage just yet. Jensen's firing came at the worst possible time. It sent another set of shockwaves through the department and a message that if this can happen to Jensen, considered one of the best managers, "then what about us?"

Two of those considered among Utah's best wildlife employees have already taken jobs in Oregon. B.A.S.S. national came into Utah looking for good people and so did Pennsylvania. Half the applications for a opening for another job in the mid-west were from Utah's DWR staff. A half a dozen more, who called last week after Jensen's firing, said they were stepping up their job search and that there's no question now that they'll leave given the chance.

Other states are going to cherry pick the best wildlife people Utah has because they don't want to stay where they're not wanted or feel they'll be handcuffed, and no one seems to care.

But why don't they? And who benefits?

Wildlife? Sportsmen? Utah? Not likely.

If the so-called "Cowboy Caucus" were to sit down and structure the DWR to best suit them, what we're getting is exactly what they would want.

We have a division gutted of managers who stood in support of wildlife, and a division of people afraid for their jobs if they knowingly or unknowingly happen to cross the wrong powers.

The message is, if you make a decision and certain types don't like it, be prepared to be reassigned to the West Desert to count frogs. If it comes to a question of wildlife versus special interest, best leave wildlife out of it.

So who's pulling the strings? Not Stewart or Bob Valentine, interim director of the DWR. It's coming from the second highest position in state government - Gov. Mike Leavitt. The position higher obviously being those he's listening to.

Forget the Governor's Forum or the proposed Wildlife Summit, or promises to do wildlife right. A political smoke screen. Gov. Leavitt already knows the direction he's pushing the DWR's wildlife management and that's where it's headed, and if you don't believe that, you might be interested in Golden Eagle tickets for next season.

Others are seeing this too. This week Ken Rait, issues director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, requested under freedom of information rules, documents from Leavitt Administration pertaining to wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, endangered species, management of commercial fisheries, the reduction in personnel at the DWR, and correspondence from Utah's Congressional delegation. Stewart has 10 days to respond.

So what's the answer?

The DWR, and wildlife, must be buffered from the power of politicians. Under the Scott Matheson administration, the power to control the DWR director was taken from the Wildlife Board and placed solely with the governor. He used the newfound power to fire Doug Day for obvious political reasons. Former Gov. Norm Bangerter used this same power to fire Bill Geer, again for purely political reasons. And now we have Gov. Leavitt playing "wildlife manager."

It's time this abuse of power stopped. It's time to buffer the DWR from Capitol Hill. Wildlife decisions should be made to benefit all involved, wildlife included, not special interests. It's definitely not headed in that direction.

Stewart pointed out that every issue is of a political nature. True. But, there are political decisions and decisions for politicians.