New Utah DWR director stresses management, not preservation

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New Director of DWR Stresses Management, Not Preservation

April 23, 2002
 

BY TOM WHARTON, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

   Unlike some of his governor-appointed peers, new Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director Kevin Conway does not mince words.

   Ask him about preserving large tracts of land with as little interference from humans as possible.

   He is against it.

   "I am not a preservationist," said Conway, a tall, slender man who enjoys fishing and waterfowl hunting. "I believe in management. To have healthy populations, we need to manage animals and their habitat. There are people who think all we have to do is be completely hands-off and wildlife will thrive. It is not practical in today's society to manage that way and I don't think it works."

   Conway, a 27-year DWR veteran who was named director earlier this month, lobbied hard and successfully in the recent Legislature to get a joint resolution urging the federal Bureau of Land Management to use every tool available, including mechanical chaining and fire, to rehabilitate Utah ranges for wildlife and livestock.

   Many environmental groups oppose the chaining of pinyon and juniper trees on public lands, a practice once used extensively to encourage undergrowth and plants eaten by ungulates such as mule deer.

   But in this instance, Conway found an environmental ally in Debbie Goodman, the lobbyist for the Utah Audubon Society.

   "That resolution acknowledged the deterioration of our range conditions due to overgrazing and putting some practices into effect to restore native vegetation and the nutrient cycle," she said. "It is characteristic of Kevin that he tries to put management systems in place that help with the short- and long-term problems we are facing. He is going to be good to work with."

   Conway said he looks forward to working with Utahns who enjoy wildlife, but do not hunt or fish -- "non-consumptive users" in wildlife management lingo. He also hopes to find ways to involve them more in paying for wildlife management, something that is almost exclusively paid for by anglers and hunters.

   "We have done tremendous things for wildlife in Utah, and sportsmen have pretty much paid the whole bill," he said. "Take Farmington Bay as an example. Non-consumptive users exceed waterfowl hunters, yet waterfowl hunters pay the whole bill."

   Conway makes it clear he has no use for anti-hunters. "We are an agency that is tightly linked, and proudly so, with hunters and fishermen," he said. "We are not about to turn our backs on that constituency."

   Conway earned a degree in wildlife management from Utah State University, but is known for his work in the agency's law enforcement section, where he began his career as a conservation officer in Roosevelt and spent many years at the regional office in Price as an investigator.

   Jerry Mason of Brigham City, a longtime member of the Utah Wildlife Federation -- a group that lobbies government on issues such as preserving wildlife habitat -- thinks those days should serve the new DWR director well.

  "He has a good feel for the practical aspects of wildlife management on the ground," said Mason.

   Conway also views his experience in law enforcement as a plus.

   "Law enforcement pre- pares you for an administrative position," he said. "A wildlife director faces complex and quite contentious issues. You need to know how to work collaboratively with people and to negotiate difficult issues. It prepares you well."

   Conway, who spent the past five years as assistant director to retired DWR director John Kimball, wants to set his own agenda. But many of his early policies will probably be an extension of those laid down by Kimball.

   That includes a major effort to preserve and improve wildlife habitat, especially stream and range restoration.

   He supports Utah's current predator management system, in which large animals such as cougars are killed in areas where managers believe the big cats are holding down mule deer numbers.

   The new director also lists low mule deer populations as one of his concerns.
   "We don't think mule deer are responding the way we would like," he said. "We need to do research to see if we can come up with an answer."

   Another issue is that sage grouse could be put on the federal endangered species list. Since the native bird has lived in all but three Utah counties, that could have a major impact on Utah growth.

   wharton@sltrib.com
 

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