The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has appealed a decision permitting the aerial shooting of coyotes in Dixie National Forest during the winter months.

In response, the intermountain regional forester issued a stay Thursday in order to gather sufficient information for a ruling on the appeal.Environmentalists are delighted that the stay will at least temporarily protect coyote populations on those allotments of the Dixie where the coyote gunning program was authorized to begin on Dec. 25, said Ken Rait, issues coordinator for SUWA.

The authorization signed by acting DNF Supervisor Robert Meinrod would permit the shooting program on the Cedar City, Powell and Teasdale ranger districts at the request of local sheep grazing permitees.

Despite the opposition, local forest officials are standing behind their decision to allow what they say is an established practice on multiple use land.

The Forest Service lets the Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service, a sister agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to do the coyote control work.

Rait said environmentalists believe the practice "is an illegitimate use of our public lands done for no other reason than to placate the ranching community."

But Meinrod said the purpose of the DNF project is to alleviate alleged coyote predation on domestic sheep grazing during the summer months.

"We're only talking about 11 percent of the whole forest. There's about 2 million acres on the Dixie, and we're only planning on utilizing aerial shootings on 210,000 acres," he said. "We`re only talking about 50 coyotes a year."