Two weeks back, a group met in a downtown office to throw a little weight onto the political scales. Show support, they call it. Not so unusual, really, considering this is the time of year when people are supposed to be jumping on and off bandwagons after hearing political promises.
Two things, however, made this jump worthy of special attention.First, those present were representing themselves and by unspoken proxy all the wildlife, trees, streams, rocks, and other outdoor resources frequently seen but never heard.
And, they represented a wide range of interests. On the numbers scales, say between 1 and 100, this group represented from minus-5 to 105. Sitting side-by-side, in fact, like the proverbial lion and lamb, were officers of the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association. Typically, these two couldn't agree on a one-item menu, but here they were speaking in unison.
Representatives from about every outdoor recreation and conservation group in Utah were, in fact, there throwing all their granola bars and beef jerky in the camps of Congressman Wayne Owens and gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson, and echoing claims that now chief Norm Bangerter has, during his entire term, been a "do nothing" governor.
Skirting the politics of it all, this unexpected unity points out one very important fact Bangerter or Wilson or Merrill Cook should recognize: People of Utah love the outdoors and expect their governor to play an active, not a passive, role in wildlife/conservation issues.
Owens wears his love of the outdoors proudly through the halls of Washington, and Wilson came out months ago with one of the most pro-wildlife positions every taken by a political candidate, while Bangerter admits to being more pro-development but claims to be fair to all sides.
In the opinion of the group gathered two weeks ago, the governor has been far more development than wildlife/conservation concerned. All they want, they said, is a fair shake. They want a show of interest and not to be ignored, therein this unusual show of unity between so many groups of diverse interest. There are wildlife and conservation issues that should be addressed on the hill.
For example, the Provo River problems. Back in January the water users put the spigot in the Deer Creek Dam and threatened one of Utah's few remaining sections of quality trout stream. That crisis was averted when snow came in February. Then this week the Bureau of Reclamation came out and said it has reconsidered its position and will pull its minimum stream-flow requirement on Monday. Once again, the stream is threatened.
Sportsmen, fishermen and conservationists have come out strongly against the move. Several individuals and groups are planning legal action. Some are even trying to rent water from farmers to save the river.
Over the summer, private groups and politicians tried to force the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to trade away a vital section of deer and elk winter range near Wallsburg, a town south of Heber, to open a new city dump.
To have given up the ground would have meant heavy losses of deer and elk this winter. One game officer, since retired, said some very heavy political pressure was placed on the division to swap. When it didn't, it nearly cost some people their jobs, he said.
At Lake Powell, where Gov. Bangerter hopes to plant Utah flags someday, the fishery is in dire need of a forage fish, one that striped bass, walleye, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and crappie can use. Until one is introduced, it's unlikely the lake will ever get back its fishing potential. A fish has been targeted and studies done.
For years now, state fisheries biologists have fought a lone battle against heavyweights in Arizona and California, trying to get them to agree to a plant. Nothing has gotten them to move.
A longtime complaint of COs (conservation officers) in the field has been that good work is never recognized by high bosses. Key projects the past four yearshave gone without gubernatorial recognition, including such recently completed projects as the Weber/Delta and Manti Bottoms waterfowl projects, and the especially important Strawberry River project, where control of 3,070 acres of the finest fishing, hunting, hiking and camping country in the state was recently openedto the public.
Wildlife can't speak for itself, nor can conservation projects stand up and extol their virtues. People must, and so far the voices haven't come from the capital. That's what the wildlife and conservation leaders want _ a voice, yea or nay.
And, whichever way the scales tip on Tuesday, more than merely giving support to one candidate or another, they're sending a message that they want support for their causes when warranted, and if hikers and hunters need to embrace to do it, then they will.