The wildlife board under the Division of Natural Resources should be disbanded if the state is to move forward on wildlife issues, activists say.
"To me, something much more deep has to happen in the way wildlife is managed in this state," said Margaret Pettis of Hyrum, a rural area where cougar hunters often converge. "We can't have lip service anymore."The comments came Tuesday before about 75 attending the "Politics and Utah Wildlife" meeting of the Wasatch Front Forum, held at First Unitarian Church, 569 S. 1300 East.
The monthly forums are to discuss historical, legal and social issues facing public-land managers and local governments.
Wayne Pacelle, vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States, says members of his group also have become frustrated by bureaucracy.
"Our concern is being excluded from that (decision making) process," Pacelle said. "Wildlife in this country belongs to the people."
Local wildlife activists say they were left out of nominating Wildlife Board members, appointed by Gov. Mike Leavitt following the 1995 Legislature. They also say the board dismisses their concerns.
"Participating when you don't have a voice really is a humiliating experience," said Pettis, an English teacher at South Cache Jr. High.
Don Smith, former Division of Wildlife Resources director, agrees.
"I do believe we have serious wildlife problems in the state," which he believes stems from political involvement and a bend toward development.
But Ted Stewart, DNR director, says changing the Wildlife Board would not alter the conflicting values it constantly manages.
"I personally don't think there's a better system than what we have," Stewart said.
The board must represent interests of wilderness advocates, agriculture businesses, hunters and animal rights activists, he said.
Rather than disbanding the board, Stewart suggests opponents help by conducting and presenting unbiased wildlife research to community leaders or turn to referendums.
The Humane Society and other groups last year pushed for referendums banning certain hunting practices, including steel traps and bear-baiting, in eight states, Pacelle said.
At Tuesday's meeting, he showed the groups' television ads, graphically depict a bear trying to shake a trap off its snout and another being mauled by a hunter's hounds.
Voters passed referendums outlawing such practices in six states, including Washington and Colorado, Pacelle said.
This year, a group of Utah animal-rights organizations may start a petition drive to put the issues of bear baiting, hounding and trapping on the 1998 ballot.
Pacelle is to begin planning the local campaign this week.
Utah's initiative process requires at least 67,188 signatures, which must be collected in at least 15 of the state's 29 counties.
Last year, the Legislature reduced the penalty for poaching cougars from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The cougar issue also was one of the first tackled by the Wildlife Board.
The Utah Cougar Coalition meets at the church today at 7 p.m. to discuss the legislative session, which begins Monday.