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Paul Rolly: Utah lawmakers chase phantom wolves while raccoons thrive

Published October 23, 2013 9:36 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, has appropriated $800,000 in the past four years to a lobbying organization to keep wolves out of Utah.

But it can't fund enforcement of the very real and out-of-control raccoon problem.

There used to be a designated wildlife-control operation in Salt Lake County funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Urban homeowners dealing with raccoons in their areas could call an officer to capture the animals.

That ended with federal budget cuts known as sequestration, say Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officers. The state has not stepped in, so homeowners are on their own.

Salt Lake County Public Works and Regional Development Director Russ Wall says the county's animal-control office fielded dozens of calls a day throughout the summer, but that it's not equipped to handle wild animals. Its facilities are for domestic and feral animals and cannot transport varmints such as raccoons and skunks because of a state administrative rule prohibiting such transport.

He says that when the raccoon program was funded, USDA was handling 10 to 22 calls a day. Since funding stopped and the program ceased, calls to DWR are referred to a private company.

Meanwhile, a recently released audit criticized the lack of accountability in tracking the Legislature's spending on anti-wolf lobbying efforts.

The money was funneled to the politically connected hunting group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and its spinoff, Big Game Forever. As for the last $300,000 appropriation, it's unclear how that funding was spent, the audit said.

So Utah has forked out $800,000 to fight imaginary wolves and can't spend a dime to control real raccoons.

Wall said the county will go to the Legislature in the next session to try to get funding for urban wildlife control.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who also is chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, suggested a proposal to introduce wolves into the state to control the raccoon menace.

Picking and choosing? • The Utah Tax Commission, heeding the advice of Attorney General John Swallow, will not allow same-sex couples who were legally married in another state to file a joint Utah tax return — even though they can file a joint federal tax return. Why? Because the Utah Constitution bans gay marriage.

But guess what? The Utah Constitution also bars gambling, yet the Tax Commission requires filers to report and pay state taxes on income derived from games of chance in other states, just as they have to report it on federal returns.

Remember this one? With all the outrage Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz has expressed toward President Barack Obama and likely future Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over the attack in Benghazi, Libya, it might be good to remember the 30th anniversary Wednesday of the bombing of U.S. military barracks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. servicemen.

Nothing substantial was done to punish the terrorists or their supporters in that bombing because of a rift between the State Department and Defense Department about the proper response.

We don't hear much about that from Chaffetz. But of course the president then was Ronald Reagan.

Designated driver? • Employees at Bountiful's state liquor store were mystified recently when, while helping customers at a particularly busy time, they heard a continuing "toot, toot, toot" from the parking lot.

One customer in line rolled her eyes and said, "I'll be right back." She put down her booze, left for a minute, then returned. But the "toot, toot, toot" again emanated from the parking lot.

She said her dog gets impatient when she takes too long in a store and honks the horn. The workers looked out to see a Labrador retriever in the car with an inquisitive expression and tooting the horn.

prolly@sltrib.com