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Groups boost lobby efforts on wilds issue amendment

Groups supporting tougher ballot initiative standards for wildlife resource issues have redoubled their lobbying efforts in response to some high-profile criticism of SJR 10.

Sponsored by Sen. Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, the proposed constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority vote to pass ballot proposals that "allow, limit or prohibit the taking of wildlife or the season for or method of taking wildlife."Currently, a simple majority of voters is needed to pass a ballot initiative.

Earlier this month, a coalition of wildlife and public interest advocates assailed SJR 10 as discriminatory, unnecessary and a threat to the democratic process. They and other opponents also cautioned against using the state Constitution to micro-manage policy matters.

But a coalition of hunting and agricultural interests this week launched a counterattack, saying its the opponents who are trying to micro-manage wildlife resources through the use of ballot initiatives.

Don Peay of the Utahns for Wildlife Heritage and Conservation said despite claims to the contrary, groups opposed to certain types of hunting in Utah - particularly dog pursuit hunting of cougars - want to put the issue on the ballot.

Peay said supporters of SJR 10 believe wildlife management decisions should be based on science and biology and left in the hands of regional advisory councils and the Utah Wildlife Board.

The bill isn't discriminatory, he argues, because the two-thirds voter threshold would apply to anyone sponsoring a wildlife ballot initiative, including hunters, animal rights activists, ranchers, developers and environmentalists.

According to Peay, SJR 10 is necessary to prevent any group from employing emotional campaigns to win voter support of misguided wildlife management decisions.

In a recent letter in response to a Deseret News editorial on the subject, Peay wrote, "It makes sure a minority of alarmists with a narrow view do not force their will upon a state of outdoor-loving families and run rough shod over what's best for all wildlife and all Utahns."

He said in an interview that such initiatives have been proposed in almost every state in the West.

"We don't want to be in the position of being in a reactionary mode here in Utah. We want to be the first state to protect the integrity of our wildlife management system," Peay said.

He added, "We don't want to spend $700,000 to $800,000 every couple of years fighting these initiatives. We would rather put that money toward wildlife habitat, which we believe is in everyone's interest."

Responding to the other coalition's warning that SJR 10 would be challenged in court, Peay said, "We are confident that it is, in fact, constitutional."

SJR 10 passed its initial test in the Senate by an overwhelming majority and is headed for a House committee.