The Humane Society of Utah is lashing out at a "predator and pest control contest" sponsored by the Sevier Wildlife Federation, calling the event "an incredible affront to 20th century American civilization in general and the image of the state of Utah in particular."

Gene Baierschmidt, Humane Society executive director, said the society is especially upset because contest organizers are encouraging youths to participate in the event, which began last week and will run through July 15.The contest awards points for the taking of coyotes, raccoons, skunks, pocket gophers, starlings and magpies. Several Sevier County merchants have donated prizes that will be awarded to those amassing the most points by contest's end.

Paul Niemeyer, spokesman for the Sevier Wildlife Federation, said the contest is not intended to promote cruelty to animals but is intended to foster control of predator animals that are causing problems for other birds such as pheasants, chukkars and water fowl. He said many of the predators, especially coyotes, skunks and raccoons, create difficulties for local farmers and ranchers.

The group recently ran a full-page ad in a Richfield weekly newspaper promoting the contest, which offers prizes for groups and individuals.

Baierschmidt said none of the animals targeted in the contest represents enough of a threat to the area's economy to justify their "wholesale, communitywide slaughter."

"The entire project and the manner in which it is being publicized present an unmistakable image of being conducted solely as a `fun' sort of thing not noticeably different from a scavenger hunt or a baseball game," Baierschmidt said.

Niemeyer said the organized killing of predators is not new to the area and in the past has often involved Scout troops and high school organizations. He said there is no intent to foster a lack of respect for animals among youth. He said it is hoped younger participants will better understand the idea of natural balance.

"We're not doing this to annihilate these animals," Niemeyer said. "We just want to bring their numbers to a point that we can live with."

Niemeyer said a government ban on the use of poisons to control predators has created an imbalance that must be addressed. He said that is the goal of the contest.

Baierschmidt said the Humane Society plans to do everything within its power to curtail the contest now and in the future. He said the society's legal counsel and cruelty investigation staff are evaluating the situation to determine what actions can be taken.