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Wildlife issue spotlights way to change laws

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The issue is not whether Utah's hunting or fishing laws should be changed. It's whether the process by which those laws can be changed should be changed.

It's like arguing about how to argue before an argument begins.Still, the passions on either side of Proposition 5 have turned the proposed amendment to the Utah Constitution into one of the most intensely debated and heavily financed issues of the fall campaign.

Proposition 5 would require a two-thirds majority vote for the successful passage of any future ballot initiative seeking a change in when, how or how much wildlife is taken in Utah.

Proponents say Proposition 5 would protect the state's current hunting and fishing practices from attack by out-of-state animal rights "extremists."

Opponents say that to require a two-thirds majority for the passage of any ballot initiative is an affront to democracy.

The emotional climate surrounding Proposition 5 was evident Thursday at the University of Utah, where the two sides squared off in a lunchtime debate hosted by the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Students and others in the audience were decidedly against Proposition 5 and took out their frustrations on Proposition 5 advocate Don Peay. The finance chairman of Utahns for Wildlife Heritage and Conservation was peppered with pointed questions.

Peay also put up with some spirited remarks from Craig Axford, Peay's sparring partner for the hourlong debate. Axford is campaign coordinator for the Utah Voting Rights Coalition, formed to defeat Proposition 5.

Peay said Utahns are happy with the way wildlife has been managed in Utah and don't want outside interests trying to change that.

But Axford said that same wildlife management strategy has led to the elimination or near-elimination of other species from Utah.