UTAH RELEASES WOLF PLAN
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) has finally released its Draft WOLF CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT PLAN (see HUPC email alert, 3/25/05). You can find the 90 page plan at http://www.wildlife.utah.gov/wolf.)
While the High Uintas Preservation Council has been critical of the Utah Wolf Working Group (HUPC LYNX, 4/04), it was a formidable task for all and a difficult challenge for the conservation minded members of the working group. Thank you!
Nonetheless, a wolf management plan finally exists and will go into effect only after the wolf has been formally de-listed from the Endangered Species Act. Fortunately, only a couple of months ago a federal court prevented the Fish and Wildlife Service from even down-listing the wolf from endangered to threatened (HUPC LYNX 2/05). It is clear that the time has not arrived for wolves to receive less protection!
The draft plan consists of thorough and helpful chapters dealing with the ecology, natural history, historic and current status of wolves in Utah and the Intermountain West, along with a discussion of the numerous Utah stakeholders, their beliefs and opinions, followed by a management plan.
While some of the draft plan is commendable, the actual management strategies disconnect from the data provided on ecology and behavior.
The planís primary goal is to allow wolves to naturally disperse into Utah and establish themselves. Once established ("at least 2 breeding pairs of wild wolves successfully raising at least 2 young each... for 2 consecutive years"), the goal would be to assure there are no impacts to livestock or big game populations. The draft plan notes, "Wolves will be controlled or populations reduced when they cause unacceptable impacts to big game. At the UDWR Director's discretion, an emergency management action may be implemented for wolves preying on populations of wildlife that are being re-established, and/or are at low levels. Such an action might include non-lethal control, such as relocation, or lethal control actions."
To say the least, this is far too open-ended and assures constant harassing of future wolf populations and a clear signal that wolves are always to be considered secondary to recreational sport hunting.
The primary strategies for livestock protection are to first utilize non-lethal techniques to try to keep wolves out of livestock and, secondarily, use lethal control. There are a series of steps before killing can occur, including whether a wolf is simply in the vicinity, actually harassing, and finally actually attacking and biting, and whether this occurs on private or public lands.
The plan also calls for a full market value compensation fund to be established to assist livestock producers who lose livestock to wolves.
The draft plan clearly notes that wolves will likely have very limited impacts upon livestock and big game.
The real failure of this draft plan is that it should have proposed that, once wolves establish a pack, livestock grazing should be ended and phased out, particularly on Forest Service or BLM allotments. The wolf compensation fund should be utilized to purchase public land grazing permits, phased out over 10 years and then dedicated to wildlife.
The plan also calls for all wolves in Utah to be radio-collared. Rather than wild wolves, Utah wolves will be tracked and followed basically held in electronic cages so they can always be found.
Following the meaningless and tiny 14 day comment period that ended on April Fools Day, the plan will be submitted to the Regional (Wildlife) Advisory Councils. It then proceeds to the Utah Wildlife Board for approval.
Consistently, we have advocated that, at a minimum, a wolf plan (HUPC LYNX, 2/03) support the natural recovery of gray wolf populations and not hide behind lethal control plan and a few scattered wolves. And while wolves and domestic livestock can be compatible, the only long-term solution is to phase out livestock permits on these core wolf areas of public land. The wolf compensation fund should be utilized to purchase public land grazing permits, phased out over 10 years, and then dedicated to wildlife.
If wolves actually depress big game populations in local areas, simply end sport hunting to ease the pressure and allow wolves and their prey to seek stabilizing populations.
The plan should assure that large, unroaded habitats are protected and connected so that wolves may properly disperse to assure viable populations. This means protection of the Bear River Range anchored by the Mt. Naomi Wilderness, the Green River Corridor, and the Book Cliffs - all attached firmly to the nearly 800,000 acres of the High Uintas Wilderness and surrounding roadless lands. It is essential that the plan's aggressive educational strategies dealing with wolf ecology and behavior be implemented.
An opportunity awaits us. Let's hope, this time, it is grabbed, the never ending whining actually ends, and wolves are welcomed home!