Monday, October 19, 2009

Westlake Farm Commercial Hunting Area: The Facts About LDS-Owned Private Wildlife Hunting Preserves In Northern Utah

During the past week, I have learned from several sources about the existence of wildlife hunting preserves owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, the sources are exclusively critical of the operation. And it's not just anti-Mormons who are critical; one member of the Church, the Faithful Dissident, has taken strong issue with the Church operating a wildlife preserve for profit.

Faithful Dissident puts forth her objections in this September 15th, 2009 post. She identifies the two LDS-owned hunting preserves as Deseret Land and Livestock, and Westlake Hunting Preserve in Utah County. However, she's also intellectually honest enough to admit that she's a vegetarian, a gun control activist and an animal rights activist, so she confesses her biases straight up. Faithful Dissident also references an MP3 broadcast put out in 2006 by Sunstone Magazine, entitled Sacrificing Principle for Profit: Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves, which summarizes their position as follows:

"To what degree should the principle of 'respect for life" be extended to bird and animal creations? What do the scriptures, Joseph Smith, and other early Church leaders teach about the grand design and purposes of God's non-human creations? Does having "dominion" over the kingdom of creatures mean we are their predators and exploiters or does it suggest a "stewardship" relationship in which we become their caretakers in order to help them "fulfill the full measure of their creation?" If the scriptures teach, "woe be unto man that sheddeth blood or wasteth flesh and have no need," and "the blood of every beast will I require at your hands," what rationale could be used to explain Church-owned, revenue-generating enterprises such as Deseret Land and Livestock and the Westlake Hunting Preserve? Do these operations constitute sacrificing principle for profit?"

However, it is not appropriate that we allow animal rights activists and anti-hunting extremists sole ownership of this story in the blogosphere, so I have decided to put forth the facts about this issue. The operations were further described in a Deseret News story dated July 10th, 2000. What the LDS Church has decided to do, using their land as a springboard, is to attempt to further pay its own way by uniting the principles of land management, wildlife management, the desire by some to engage in legal trophy hunting, and service missionary work. The Deseret News story focuses upon the Westlake Farm Commercial Hunting Area, an 11,000-acre piece of desert near the southwest shore of Utah Lake managed by the LDS Church's Farm Management Co. It is set amid additional thousands of acres of LDS Church farmland that stretches to the horizon on the south and west. The for-profit farming and ranching company continues to be overseen by the church's Presiding Bishopric and was managed on-site in 2000 by a service missionary couple, Clair and Beth Huff.

Elder Huff was a career wildlife biologist who served a stint as assistant director of operations for the Utah State Division of Wildlife Resources. He and his wife are a financially-secure couple who left their new home in Draper, Utah more than 26 months prior to live full time at Westlake in an isolated aluminum siding home miles from the nearest human inhabitant. Like other service missionaries, they received no financial compensation. The couple put in up to 18-hour days bush-whacking in the thick brush, looking for the perfect places to nurture his birds by planting numerous stands of corn, rye and other grains. Most notably, they planted a row of several hundred cedar trees as a future wind break.

The preserve has a checking station, where hunters come to gain admittance and where they must register the number of birds and other wildlife they take when they leave. With thousands of birds flocking to the property in search of food, particularly during the fall hunting season, hunters find it attractive because they stand a prime chance of "harvesting" their limit. But to prevent over-hunting, only a few pheasant and goose-hunting permits are sold each year, with hunters paying as much as $1,500 for the opportunity to hunt. Once a hunter ponies up the cash to secure a permit, he's not only guaranteed a permit for the following year, but his chance to draw the prime target areas on the preserve improve along with his seniority in the exclusive group. The majority of hunters are from Utah, many of them doctors, dentists and attorneys from Payson north to Ogden. A 2,600-foot landing strip is also provided for hunters who prefer to fly in rather than make a long drive. But hunting isn't the only recreational activity in the area; the Mosida Lodge also offers handcart treks in the area.

The LDS Church's objective is to create the type of habitat that will sustain a vibrant wildlife population alongside a huge agricultural operation that, under normal circumstances, would mean a clash between individual farmer and rancher. Because the church owns both the hunting operation and the surrounding farming operation, employees are working together to ensure that both the farms and the game preserve co-exist in a way that benefits everyone. And, unlike Federally-owned land, it requires no taxpayer funding.

Critics don't like it because it promotes recreational hunting preferentially accessible to the rich, the Church provides no public financial statements, and they (the critics) think the use of service missionaries constitutes "slave labor". But since it primarily involves bird hunting, this means the resource will be consumed by the hunter. This means it is NOT trophy hunting (hunting of "trophy elk" is not immoral if the meat is consumed). In addition, the Church, being privately owned, has no obligation to provide public financial statements since Church leaders draw their mandate from the Lord rather than the people. And finally, the use of senior couples as voluntary service missionaries hardly constitutes "slave labor".

Critics of these operations are confusing morality with propriety. They are either substituting their own harsher interpretation of LDS morality, or perhaps even their own morality, for legal propriety. The operation of private hunting preserves is legal in the United States. The right to charge whatever the market can bear is also legal. Therefore, these hunting preserves comply fully with the intent and spirit of the Twelfth Article of Faith, which prescribes "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law". In no way do they conflict with guidance given in the Doctrine and Covenants about respecting life and proper stewardship.


The Faithful Dissident said...

This blog post of mine continues to get a lot of hits, but I consider it to be a bit out of date. I did a further investigation into the issue of the hunting preserves (which is difficult since I live overseas and information online is scarce and the presiding bishopric declines to comment) and did a new post for Mormon Matters. For anyone who is interested, I ask you to read that post here.


Felicia Kreitl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Felicia Kreitl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Anything against what was said does not even get posted, but you guys just need to get a life and stop causing problems! I am not lds but I am against people that find enough time to criticise anyone and everyone for no other reason then to cause a worthless problem! I have read into this and you should too, they are actually helping the wildlife, rather then destroy the natural land like most farmers do. How about you go get a real job and quit scamming people! Put your talents into something that is not worthless and maybe you can change the world!

Anonymous said...

why are you so blind?