The resignation of Bill Geer, the popular director of the Division of Wildlife Resources, was accepted Monday morning, apparently on orders from the governor.
Dee Hansen, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources and the man who accepted Geer's resignation, said Geer will stay on as director until a replacement is hired. A national search for a new director will begin immediately, but Hansen expects it will take two to three months before the position is filled.After his November re-election, Gov. Norm Bangerter requested that all appointees, including Geer, submit letters of resignation. In a carefully worded letter, Geer said he was complying with the request but asked that he be allowed to stay on as director.
When it was announced that Geer might be replaced, the wildlife and conservation community rallied behind Geer. The governor's office has received numerous letters and personal requests asking Bangerter to keep the wildlife director.
Because of his support of wildlife projects, sometimes against the administration's requests, Geer was one of the first division heads Bangerter told aides he would remove.
Bangerter has not been popular with wildlife and conservation groups. Every major group in the state, in fact, came out in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson before elections. The replacing of Geer is seen by many wildlife leaders as retaliation for that support.
While it was Hansen who accepted Geer's resignation, the order came down from Bangerter, sources in the governor's office said. The decision to have Hansen in the forefront is a move to try and isolate Bangerter from the decision.
In accepting the resignation, Hansen said that if Utah is to improve wildlife resources, "we must have leaders who have a successful working relationship with interests and organizations other than conservation groups who impact and influence wildlife programs."
"This does not suggest a change in this administration's policy to having quality wildlife management programs. . . . However even greater success can be achieved in habitat and public use programs if there is a broad base of recognition and support for wildlife needs from other segments of Utah's diverse industry."
Geer has been recognized as a strong supporter of Utah's wildlife and wildlife programs. On occasion, those views have come in direct conflict with the administration's "development" philosophy.
Rudy Lukez, conservation chairman for the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter, said Monday, "I think it's very disappointing. Everything I've seen Bill do, and everything I've heard from the folks who are very involved in wildlife, is that he's one of the best directors that the DWR has ever had."
He is "a person who has an exceptionally good understanding of the requirements for game and non-game wildlife throughout the state."
Lukez charged that the firing seems politically motivated and added, "It exemplifies the anti-wildlife attitude the Bangerter administration has had in the past. That is really bad news."
"I don't see you can see this as anything other than a political firing," said Kenley Brunsdale an officer in Utah's Roundtable, which involves leading wildlife groups.
"It just shows how the job is a `catch 22' in Utah politics. It's an impossible situation. Bill is being fired for doing his job of protecting and developing Utah's wildlife. If he hadn't done his job and satisfied political interests, then sportsmen would have been after is job. It can't work this way and for the second time, now, it's been proven."
Brunsdale was referring to the fact that since new legislation was enacted seven years ago that made it possible for the governor to fire division directors, two wildlife directors have fallen _ Doug Day under Scott Matheson's administration and now Geer.
Geer began his career with the DWR in 1975 as an aquatic resources analyst. He was chief of fisheries at the division prior to being appointed director in April 1984.