Emotion instead of reason drives Utah Legislature

When it comes to wild carnivores these lawmakers look to their gut instead of their brain-

A couple months ago I went to the Utah Capitol to oppose House Bill 228 (the brainchild of state Rep. Casey Snyder), otherwise known as the Livestock Predators Removal Amendments. The bill was one of two designed to do what all predator-related bills are designed to do, which is to make it easier to kill predators while all but eliminating accountability.

Opaque, ill-defined and ecologically illiterate, these poorly written bills are emblematic of the anti-predator mentality of legislators throughout the West, where more and more predators are killed for non-evidentiary reasons.

On a very basic level I knew I wasn’t going to change the committee members’ hearts and minds. Many have built their entire careers on catering to the desires of the agricultural and hunting communities. On a rational or extra-tribal level, however, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Surely they were prepared to give serious consideration to the opposition’s arguments and valued the logic and science on which those arguments are based.

Given that the lives of hundreds of black bears, lions and coyotes were at stake, I held out hope that the representatives would subordinate their own personal beliefs in service of the larger truth. But the longer I sat there, the more I realized that the meeting was not designed to consider the bigger picture. It was designed to remain impervious to it.

After hearing testimony from those who supported and opposed the bill, Rep. Carl Albrecht made this observation: “We’ve heard from folks who represent science. I would state that those who live on the ground and live with predators every day and try to salvage their sheep herd, their cows, their calves over a period of 40 to 50 years as a family; that’s observation; that’s science.”

Albrecht’s comment undermines responsible policy-making by dismissing the single most reliable and accurate means we have of knowing anything. Livestock producers do indeed acquire a great deal of hard-won knowledge during their time on the land, but most of that information is related to how environmental factors — predators, weather, disease, forage — affect livestock production.

Wildlife biologists and ecologists are also interested in these factors, but they use the scientific method and conduct lengthy studies and experiments before drawing conclusions about what’s happening. We would be wise to consider both ways of knowing in our bid to address these complex challenges. Albrecht would have us value the subjective gleanings of personal experience above all else.

Equally indicative of an uncritical mindset was a comment made by Snyder in his closing remarks: “I would submit to you that those who supported this bill were not speaking in the abstract. This is real to them,” he said as motioned to the ranchers and herders who sat with their hats in their laps. “This bill has real implications to them. It’s going to affect them personally. … So I would encourage my colleagues … to listen to those voices and not to the voices that may not be impacted in a personal way.”

By suggesting that personal experience is somehow more important than the abstract, Snyder’s comment echoes Albrecht’s belief that observation outweighs science. But Snyder’s comment also alludes to another signature of uncritical thinking, which is the primacy of emotion.

By “implications” Snyder is likely referring to the trauma of discovering animals killed by lions or bears, and to how those losses threaten a livestock producer’s ability to survive. These are indeed real concerns, but making wildlife policy decisions solely on the basis of them represents a dereliction of duty by any reasonable standard.

If there is any doubt about Snyder’s standard or where his priorities lie, consider his emphasis on the personal — as opposed to the ecological — significance of predators. In an anthrocentric universe, wildlife management is about people. Animals are either resources or competitors, with nothing in between.

I struggle to understand why people show such low regard for predators but, as much as I disagree with them, unlike Snyder, I would not recommend that they be ignored. No matter how you cut it, it makes sense to listen to what people have to say and, when necessary, to change in light of it.

We can do so much better than to follow the example of the Snyder and Albrechts of the world. The work of scientists and critically thinking people everywhere can help show us how to overcome the self-interested limitations of our own minds.

Editorial comment by Dr. Ralph Maughan

Maximillian explores the extreme anti-predator bias of the Utah Legislature. This a part of a much larger view that has been held in that body since the beginning of statehood. The dominant view has always been that nature and anything in it exists only to satisfy the immediate material economic needs of humankind.

Scenery can be important for example, but only as a natural resource that makes money and provides jobs for local residents and the state of Utah. Wildlife is important because some of it can be turned into meat, leather, and perhaps other commodities. Hunting also generates revenue. Wildlife is also often harmful because it eats grass that could feed cattle and sheep. Worse, as discussed in the the article above, predatory wildlife sometimes kill  cattle and sheep. Fundamentally, carnivores are worthless or worse. The state would be better of if there were no bears, cougar, coyotes, fox, bobcats. Certainly any wolves migrating into Utah should be destroyed.

Although the state authorities keep the Bundys (Cliven Bundy and sons who came from just inside Nevada to the immediate south) at arms length, the Bundy philosophy is basically their philosophy.

This is a widespread rural view in Utah, but not that of the large majority who live in Utah’s dense urban areas. Those in Utah’s cities get little representation of their views. Interestingly, a new book, “American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God and Public Lands in the West” by Betsy Gaines Quammen (Salt Lake City: Torrey House Press) explains how this came to be and why is persists.



  1. Frank Krosnicki Avatar
    Frank Krosnicki

    How much “under the table” money is involved in these decisions? Sadly, we will never know.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    So many worrisome things in this bill:

    I see that eagles are listed as depredating predators now?

    A question I have always had, Utah doesn’t have wolves (and has vowed never to), but somehow got a delisting at the northeastern corner/border of Idaho and Wyoming. and Colorado too it would seem? Maybe I am wrong? It seems that there is a lot of unethical political maneuvering and bargaining going on.

    There’s something about selling the predators as well, and receiving compensation. How does anyone know that wasn’t the goal all along? But yet they still want compensation from the government for any livestock loss.

    I simply do not understand this mindset, and it seems that the people of Utah themselves either support this or not. Either they are not paying attention, know and don’t care, or support it.

  3. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Thank you for this post.

  4. Nancy Avatar

    A Disney movie released back in 1970 that captures the mentality of ranchers, way back then, when it came to “controlling” predators and sadly little has changed.

    Worth the couple of bucks to download and watch. Both human and animal “actors” abound in this movie but no denying the underlying message – humans good, wildlife bad, when in comes to satisfying human need and greed.

  5. Mark Bailey Avatar

    Not only is the Utah Legislature ecologically illiterate, they are economically as well. On page 46 of the Utah 2020 Economic Report to the Governor is a graph that always astonishes me. Utah is mostly high altitude, arid, mountainous and rugged red rock state. As such it is not well suited to agriculture. You might judge by the focus of the Utah Legislature that agriculture and other natural resource extraction was a significant portion of Utah’s economy. Take your own guess. What percent of Utah’s gross domestic product would you suppose is made up of agriculture, natural resource extraction, and mining. This would include the oil and gas industry.

    In 2019 the answer is 2.0 percent. The agriculture portion is less than 1.0 percent (and uses 80% of the State’s water). Ranching is less than 0.5% of the State’s economy. The legislature’s infatuation with ranching is a romantic 19th century anachronism.

    Ralph Maughan is right, the Wasatch Front is the economic engine of the state. Agriculture could not exist with its subsidy. And the public is simply not aware of the waste and degradation of the land their subsidies enable. There’s no grazing of any sort in the Wasatch Mountains, where the public visitation is as heavy as any national park. The public wouldn’t stand for it. Yet in spite of the visitation, the Wasatch forests are in better shape than any other in the state. The reason? No private industry livestock grazing allowed on our public lands there.

    Torrey House Press published Betsy Quammen’s book to help raise public awareness of the issue. Please do give it a read and pass it on!

    -Mark Bailey

  6. hetopa Avatar

    Compare the white mans mindset with that of traditional Native Americans. Indians were not slaughtered and forced onto reservations for the fun of it. Their cosmology held that all things in creation had meaning and were important. They had no or little use for money and the hierarchical system of governance was a foreign concept. They ( along with their animal relatives) were removed to make way for a hierarchical system that is good for the hierarchy – not for the rest of society.

    It is the Greco-Roman system reborn. Thus, it seems that Eurocentric “white” men are slow learners. So slow that they would rather destroy the ecosystems of the earth and their own lively hoods than live in harmony with creation. Harmony implies balance and balance is not hierarchical and all controlling.

    Ranchers in Utah are a thing of the past-they just don’t know it yet.


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Ralph Maughan