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Friday, June 10, 2005 - 12:00 AM  
Board votes not to protect wolves from ranchers

Caleb Warnock DAILY HERALD

Wolves on Utah's public lands will not be protected from ranchers.

The eight-member State Wildlife Board on Thursday voted to accept the state's first wolf management plan, two years in the making, after listening to hours of public comment on the issue in Salt Lake City.


In a blow to wolf advocates, the board voted to allow ranchers to shoot wolves on sight on both public and private land, without trying nonlethal methods first.

Board members also voted to pay ranchers 100 percent of the cost of their lost animals, even when there is no proof the animals were taken by wolves.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must now decide whether to accept the plan. If the agency rejects the plan, Utah will have to start over again or give up the right to manage wolves.

Because wolves enjoy federal protection as an endangered species, the federal government now has control of any wolf that may appear in Utah. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said it will not remove any wolf that shows up here, nor allow wolves to be killed on public or private land by ranchers.

Before state government can take control of wolves here, the federal government must remove the animals from the endangered species list, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must agree Utah has a wolf management plan that will not threaten the survival of wolves here.

Kirk Robinson of the Utah Wolf Forum said Thursday's decision is not likely to be accepted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rendering moot two years of work.

It is not clear how soon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether or not to accept Thursday's decision, he said.

Wyoming's wolf management plan, which allowed anyone in the state to shoot wolves on sight on public and private land, has already been rejected, and the state has lost an appeal of that decision in court.

"We will have to go through this again," Robinson said of Utah's plan. "The good news is that the wolf is still listed as an endangered species and will be until Utah produces a more wolf-friendly plan."

Members of the state board said during Thursday's meeting that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had preliminarily approved the state's plan. That plan did not include amendments added Thursday allowing wolves to be shot on public land.

Dozens of people spoke for and against the plan Thursday in a public hearing that lasted several hours.

Speaking before the vote, John Bair, a member of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources central region advisory council, said sport hunters are concerned that wolves could kill too many deer and elk. Bair spoke on behalf of half a dozen sport hunting groups.

"We all agree it is important that we come up with a plan and that wolves be turned over to state management as soon as possible," he said.

Other speakers said variously that wolves must be protected on public lands, wolves would decimate elk and deer populations, wolves could spell financial disaster for ranchers, wolves would balance Utah's ecosystem, and wolves could provide an economic boost through increased tourism.


Caleb Warnock can be reached at 756-7669 ext. 19 or cwarnock@heraldextra.com.

Are there already wolves in Utah?

The gray wolf was reintroduced to the western United States in 1995 when 14 wolves from Canada were transplanted to Yellowstone. Today, 650 to 700 wolves live in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Wolves roaming the West early in the 20th century were hunted and trapped into extinction.

In 2002, a male from Yellowstone National Park became the first confirmed wolf in Utah in nearly 70 years when it was caught in a coyote trap about 25 miles north of Salt Lake City.

That wolf was taken back to Yellowstone by federal officials. Since then, there have been many rumors of wolf sightings in Utah, but none have been confirmed, said Kevin Bunnell of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

On several occasions over the past three years, the DWR has received multiple reports of sightings in the same area, he said.

"Whenever we get a credible sighting, we check them out," he said. "In that process, we haven't been able to confirm any other wolves."

Wolves are likely coming in and out of Utah all the time, said Kirk Robinson of the Utah Wolf Forum.

Are there wolves here now?

"I think there might be," he said. "If there are, they are probably in the Uintas. I think it's more likely that they come in and spend a little while and leave."

Wolves migrating here are likely single animals looking for mates, he said. When they don't find a mate, they eventually return north.

Both Bunnell and Robinson agree wolves will eventually colonize in Utah.

"I think it is just as likely there will be wolves here in the future as there will be humans here," Robinson said.

"It's 100 percent that it will happen," said Bunnell. "Whether in a year or five years, I don't know, but we will have wolves. We already know of more than three that have come into the state and haven't stayed. They will continue to come, and eventually they will decide to stay."

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.





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