Kirk Robinson: Amendment E is a bad way to protect wildlife

Al Hartmann | Thge Salt Lake Tribune Elk hunter uses an elk rack to knock against trees to mimic the sound of a bull elk during a fall hunt on the Bears Ears country in San Juan County. The area is included for a proposed Bears Ears National Monument.

Amendment E on the election ballot would amend the Utah Constitution to guarantee the right of Utah citizens to hunt and fish in perpetuity. It would also make hunting and fishing the “preferred method of managing and controlling wildlife.”

It is worth noting that there is no movement afoot to outlaw hunting and fishing in Utah. Nor is there a realistic chance that such a movement would succeed. It is true that hunting is in decline throughout most of the country, but it remains a significant part of our culture with a long tradition and is not likely to fade away any time soon. In any case, a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt is hardly likely to make more people want to take up hunting. In this regard, Amendment E seems entirely pointless.

The other part of Amendment E — the part about guaranteeing that hunting and fishing will always be the preferred method of managing and controlling wildlife — is more problematic. What does it mean?

For example, does it mean that killing wildlife will always be the method used for achieving a wildlife management objective? What if the objective cannot be achieved by such means? For instance, if the objective is to increase the number of sage grouse, not hunting them would seem to be the preferable strategy. Alternatively, killing predators of sage grouse would be in some cases illegal (golden eagles) and in other cases ineffective (coyotes: because they are so prolific it is just not possible to kill enough of them to reduce their numbers substantially for any length of time).

This strict interpretation of Amendment E can be ruled out on the ground of absurdity, but it’s very unclear what we are left with. Does it mean that hunting should always be at least one component of a wildlife management strategy? Consider the growing problem of chronic wasting disease — a disease of deer and elk that is relentlessly sweeping through western states, including Utah. This disease is always lethal and threatens to decimate deer and elk herds. Some medical experts warn that, like mad cow disease, it might even be transmissible to humans. CWD is a true wildlife management emergency. What should be the “preferred” method of combating it?

According to Amendment E, as a minimum it will have to involve a hunting program of some sort. But who wants to buy a hunting license to shoot a CWD-infected elk or deer, let alone eat one? And how is a hunter supposed to tell the difference anyway? On the face of it, this would appear to be an inefficient and impractical management strategy bound to fail.

On the other hand, killing the predators of deer and elk — namely bears, wolves and cougars — would be counterproductive. Populations of wolves and cougars, in particular, unlike deer and elk populations, are self-limiting and don’t need to be “controlled” by hunters. And if we allow them to, these native predators will take care of business just as they did for thousands of years before human interference. They’re on the job 24-7 year-round (except bears when in hibernation) and are unexcelled at identifying sick and weakened animals that are the least risky to take. And not to be overlooked: Their services are free. They are nature’s immune system. Weakening this system, as a straightforward reading of Amendment E prescribes, can’t possibly help.

Amendment E is misguided and can only cause trouble. Voters should reject it.

Kirk Robinson.

Kirk Robinson, Ph.D., Salt Lake City, is executive director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy.

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