Wildlife advocates want answers following open house
As it becomes obvious how passionate Summit County residents feel about the area’s wildlife, it begs the question: what happens next as the dust begins to settle from last week’s open house? Many wildlife advocates who attended the meeting fear their comments will be tossed aside and forgotten.
"I certainly heard from quite a few people after the meeting who were frustrated," said Sharon Cantwell, a resident and member of Save People Save Wildlife. "I think the biggest concern everyone had was, ‘what now?’ It felt insincere for us to just throw our comments in the suggestion box. We don’t feel there will be a follow and if there is, in what forum?"
Last week, Cantwell and about 150 other Snyderville Basin residents attended the Division of Wildlife Resources’ (DWR) wildlife open house. More than 20 DWR staff members joined representatives from Wild Are Utah to discuss issues such as the agency’s policies on euthanasia and relocation after being contacted by dozens of residents concerned with the agency’s practices.
Attendees submitted nearly 130 comments and letters to DWR at the open house about mortality rates for wildlife on highways, relocation, issues in Round Valley and Silver Creek, cougar management and concerns from landowners about protecting property values, according to Phil Douglass, the northern region wildlife conservation outreach manager.
"They covered all of the areas that we certainly deal with on a daily, if not weekly, basis," Douglass said. "But I hear these kinds of things that the comments that were presented at the open house will get thrown away and that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
"I went through every one of those comments and read each one with respect and understanding," he said.
Douglass said he spent the weekend sifting through the comments to categorize them ahead of drafting a summary report to present to his superiors.
"We will be putting those comments in a summary, then we will present those to our director’s office and post them online with our responses," Douglass said. "I know the DWR was really pleased with the turnout and the comments that we received. We were also just as pleased with the opportunity that we had to clear up some misinformation.
"We want to reduce these conflicts and the calls that come through and people to truly learn to live with wildlife," he said.
However, Douglass admitted that any policy changes won’t immediately follow the release of a summary report containing the comments and concerns. Douglass suggested advocates take their concerns to the Division of Wildlife Board and Regional Council that is responsible for Summit County. He said that is the body that would ultimately implement new policies.
Cantwell, who is also a member of the grassroots campaign Save People Save Wildlife, said many of her neighbors expressed their opinions on social media that the event was "disappointing, if not unproductive."
"I feel like the information and data that they have is on a need-to-know basis and we don’t need to know," Cantwell said. "I think there is a long road ahead because they aren’t used to being called out and they would like to keep it as bureaucratic as possible. I think it will be about a year before we get any rational sort of addressing of any policies. They want to keep it like an unshapen mass that no one can really put their hands on and sort out."
Cantwell said like most residents, she is simply looking for guidance on where to take her mounting concerns.
"For me, politics is not my cup of tea. It seems to me like we need someone in the community, on the political side of things, to help guide us moving forward because taking over the wildlife center like the people did in Oregon is probably not the way to go. But is there a rational way we can begin to get these issues clearly identified and discussed and worked on?" Cantwell asked.
"The conversation has gotten much louder and people are continuing to comment on this daily. It’s not going away."
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