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WOLVES' UTAH WELCOME ALREADY WORN OUT?

Following the exciting news that wolves were appearing in Utah, seeking new terrain to establish packs or just exploring from their home base in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it has been a devastating few months for those that ventured into Zion. Since the July 2002 sheep killing on the Bear River Range was reported last September, followed by the trapping and return to Lamar Valley of crippled Wolf 153 near Morgan (and sighting of tracks by his "mate"), a lone wolf was shot and killed in northern Cache Valley (near Weston) by a coyote hunter and two wolves were summarily shot by Wildlife Services as they were pushed by helicopter pursuit out of Utah into Wyoming. It could not be clearer that Utah doesn't want wolves to complete the big mammal complement of our ecosystem.

But many of us vehemently disagree. A recent USU poll verifies our love of wolves and our desire to see them protected as they establish themselves in packs in Utah's wild forest country.

As one of the first creatures to be protected by the Endangered Species Act in l972, nearly 70 years after its near extermination from this country, the wolf was recently the center of yet another major action.

On March 18, 2003, the USFWS officially downlisted the status of the 700 gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains from endangered to threatened. Wolves have met the goal of "recovered population" by attaining 30 breeding pairs for over three years, since the l995 transplant of Canadian wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. While wolves in the Southern Distinct Population (essentially south of Utah's Highway 70) still carry the endangered status, those animals north of Highways 70 and 50 have been downlisted.

But on April 1, Defenders of Wildlife filed with the Department of Interior a Notice of Intent to Sue for Violations of the ESA as it regards the gray wolf. Claiming the wolf has NOT recovered in number (there are only 4000 wolves in the coterminous United States) or range (they inhabit a mere 2% of historic range), Defenders finds Interior in violation of the ESA and its own Distinct Population Segment Policy.

As you will recall from our February 2003 LYNX, which focused on the wolf issue, HUPC identified conditions that must be met in a Utah wolf plan. (See box below.)

We can only hope that sanity prevails as the wolf establishes itself here and in other western states. Until the errant wolves can establish a pack, the killing of livestock for subsistence will continue. That is not pack behavior. But it can forestall or prevent any permanence of pack formation in Utah if every animal that gets into trouble (e.g. eats what it finds) is shot.

By Margaret Pettis

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A Brief Synopsis of HUPC's Wolf plan

(Please see our February 2003 LYNX for the full plan)
  1. Assure that large unfragmented and unroaded habitats are properly protected and connected so that wolves may disperse into Utah from presently occupied areas in Idaho and Wyoming.
  2. To keep these core wolf areas secure, it is imperative that these roadless lands be closed to snowmobile and ATV use, which bring disturbances into sensitive habitats at critical times.
  3. While wolves and livestock can be compatible, the only long term solution, particularly in sheep country, is to remove/ purchase sheep permits over the next decade on these core wolf areas of public land. All ungrazed areas should remain ungrazed.
  4. Under no conditions can recreational hunting of any wolves be allowed. Packs can become dysfunctional when heavily hunted, resulting in more problem wolves, not fewer.
  5. Recognizing that some predation and threats to public safety may occur, it is recognized that some lethal control may occasionally be necessary but only after compensation efforts are initiated, altering grazing patterns and the problem human behavior (control of pets, for example), and then only the offending wolf should be targeted.
  6. Any wolf plan developed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources must be founded on these sound principles and developed in an open public process, as opposed to the five RACs, which are composed of hunters, local officials, agricultural representatives, sportsmen-related business and, at most, two token, nonconsumptive wildlife supporters. A wolf education effort and plan developed under these constraints is intentionally exclusive.


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