From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 52 - March 27, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Sportsmen meet tonight

by Cat Urbigkit


Numerous people called the Examiner office to be sure the newspaper knew about the "wolf meeting" that was to be held in Pinedale this week. As it turns out, the meeting is an organizational event to create a new chapter of an existing organization that talks about working with ranchers, but at the same time buys up grazing permits to change the use to wildlife. The group appears to be cashing in on the momentum of the wolf controversy in Wyoming as an organizational tool.

Tonight, Thursday, at 7 p.m., in the large meeting room of the Sublette County Library in Pinedale, sportsmen are expected to gather to form a local chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

While some hunting-oriented organizations are focused on a particular species or its habitat, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife takes a different tack: it operates in the political arena, and its major concern right now is predators.

Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife began in Utah, where it has been extremely successful, and some say it is now the strongest special-interest group in that state.

Brett Berg of Lander is coming over to help organize this first meeting for the Sublette County chapter. He's a familiar figure on this side of the Continental Divide as well, as he owns Wind River Rentals in Pinedale.

Berg said in an interview, "The wolf issue is what's really brought this to a head, but it's more than just the wolf issue."

Predators are the group's most immediate concern and the effect of predation on local game populations. This group can make a difference, Berg said, pointing out Utah now has a bounty on coyotes and Utah wildlife officials raised the mountain lion quota from 200 to 700.

"They've done some impressive things in Utah," Berg said. He noted that last fall's hunting seasons resulted in the take of the top trophy bighorn, desert bighorn, mountain goat and moose, along with several other trophies, "so it's obviously working."

As for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, which claims to represent hunters, Berg said: "They're a joke as far as representing sportsmen's views. I don't mean to be harsh, but they really are."

Local SFW chapters have sprung up in Sweetwater and Fremont counties in the last few months as well. This year, the organization hopes to create new chapters in Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Nevada, with next year's targets being California, Washington and Montana.

The Salt Lake Tribune printed a feature article last month about Don Peay, the founder of SFW and its Utah lobbyist. The article describes Peay as admittedly too combatitive, somewhat of a bully, but nonetheless, a leader - the don of wildlife. He founded a local chapter of the Foundation of North American Wild Sheep and in his years with SFW, has challenged livestock-grazing interests on behalf of Utah's wildlife. Peay still serves on the national board for the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep.

Wyoming public-lands livestock producers may not welcome SFW if the organization's behavior in this state will be similar to Peay's actions with SFW in Utah. SFW has bought up millions of acres of state grazing permits for wildlife use instead of livestock; he's criticized livestock producers for the forage domestic animals consume on mountain allotments; and has publicly tangled with ranchers on several occasions.

SFW's 10-year goals include big gains in the game populations, and the organization claims: "We will not do it at the expense of one rancher. In fact, our efforts will most likely benefit ranchers economically."

But the organization acknowledges: "We will achieve these objectives by working with federal agencies to increase productivity of federal lands; acquire grazing permits; convert the use from livestock to wildlife as ranchers retire and sell their assets; acquire critical winter-range properties...." as well as other methods, according to information put out by the organization. "There will be some political resistance by some ranchers who don't like wildlife groups acquiring assets through the free market. However, over the next 10 years, we can complete projects that will make hunting and fishing better for us all, and leave a legacy for our kids and grandkids."

SFW works with the Utah Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep to accomplish a variety of projects, including purchasing conservation easements for bighorns in southeastern Utah, funding wildlife transplants, purchasing habitat and paying for habitat improvements.

When asked about these issues, Berg, who serves on the board of the Fremont County chapter, said he has no intention of adopting an anti-agricultural stance.

"This is Utah's stuff, which won't necessarily pertain to Wyoming," Berg said.

Berg said citizens in Fremont County raised the same issues, and as a result, that the local chapter adopted the opposite view, publicly taking a pro-agriculture and ranching policy.

"The same issues have been a real hot-spot over here," Berg said. "SFW is just in its infantile stages in Wyoming. Wyoming will establish its own agenda and accomplish that."

Berg invites all who want to help establish the organization in Wyo-ming, and set Wyoming's agenda for wildlife management in the future, to attend tonight's meeting.

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