WITH THE ELECTION over, second-term Gov. Norm Bangerter retreated to southern Utah last week to review his staff. Who to keep, who to fire, were the decisions he faced. Those who did little the past four years have something to worry about; those who did their jobs don't, or at least shouldn't.
Last week, someone leaked word that Bill Geer, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources the past five years, is about to be scratched from the governor's staff. There's growing concern among sportsmen that it might be true.In making his decisions, Bangerter should consider a good job more important to him than political polish. He should consider accomplishments rather than try to satisfy a few political friends who may have had their feelings hurt by Geer's strong support of Utah's wildlife.
Granted, Geer is no politician. He's up-front and direct. He is not great at back-slapping or small talk. He'd sooner get to the subject, preferably wildlife, and be on with it. He's the outdoorsy type, more comfortable in flannel shirt, western boots and Levis, reading "Outdoor Life," than in tie and tux at the Governor's Ball.
His favorite topic is wildlife, be it feathered, scaled or coated. And, if asked to act on a program for the betterment of wildlife - game or non-game - he'll likely promise all in his power to help, even his own two hands. But if he feels a program will hurt the governor's animals, and as governor they are his, every hare and mountain goat and mule deer, he'll say so then and there. And therein, it appears, lies his only fault. He's honest. He's a man with convictions.
Geer is recognized among his peers as bright, aggressive and creative. Not long ago he was honored as the outstanding wildlife director in the West. With his employees, he is considered fair, supportive and forthright.
Over the past five years many programs have fallen into place, most of them beneficial, many very creative. True, Geer didn't do it all alone, but in some cases he did, and in many he helped, and with the others he let it happen. Sportsmen, and the governor too, have benefited.
What programs can Geer be credited with? For one, year-round fishing, which has been a bonus for the state's 500,000-plus fishermen and a big boost to the state's economy. For another, big-game policies that directly contributed to two of the most successful big-game hunts for deer and elk in recent years. Under his administration, Utah sportsmen are having more success and enjoying a broader choice of hunting opportunity than ever before.
Then, too, there has been the introduction of the Utah Duck Stamp that provided the funds to acquire new wetlands and to help rehabilitate those destroyed by flooding waters from the Great Salt Lake.
Other programs include the acquisition of critical deer winter range; the procurement of access rights to some of the state's best fishing streams and hunting areas; the posted hunting bill that allows landowners to group property together and sell special trespass permits, which is what Delta recently did during the pheasant hunt to raise money to help send its high school singing group to France; new law enforcement programs, such as the highly successful road blocks; and most recently the highly publicized Provo River flow compromise that resulted in an agreement between water users, conservationists and fishermen to save one of Utah's most prized sections of trout stream.
There are, of course, more programs. In all cases, Geer and the division got needed support from Gov. Bangerter and the Legislature to accomplish these goals.
Again, Geer didn't do it all alone. Some he did, others he helped on, and the rest he allowed to happen. Also true is that Bangerter supported some programs and allowed the others to happen. Apparently the two worked well together.
Since the threat to Geer's position was announced, there has been a tremendous show of support and concern from individual sportsmen, groups and the people he works with.
Political firings are not new. Former Wildlife Resources Director Doug Day was fired on the whim of then Natural Resources Director Temple Reynolds, with former Gov. Scott Matheson's blessings.
But it shouldn't be that way. Geer should not be fired. He's worked hard for Utah, its sportsmen, its wildlife, and its governor. Utah has benefited, sportsmen have benefited, wildlife has benefited and Gov. Bangerter has benefited.
If, in fact, Geer is fired, then Gov. Bangerter is sending a clear message that those benefits take a backseat to satisfying the personal interests of those who are more intent on personal revenge than the state's wildlife and natural resources.