UTAHNS WELCOME WOLF HOME!
Whether Denver or SLC, the hearings to propose downlisting and eventual de-listing of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (see HUPC LYNX, 10/00, 6/00) have been held and not surprisingly the voices were vigorous and nearly unanimous in opposition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal!
Wolf knows the Uintas; it is recognizable. It is home.
Utah has always been home to wolf-- and for the better part of this century only as an apparition, with the material wolf yearning for the last wildness on the Uintas. It is likely a few individuals have broken ranks from their already isolated and fragmented packs in Idaho and Wyoming to venture onto the North Slope in the dark and slip back home by starlight.
In fact, from the book The Wolves of North America, Part II, (1944), the wolf of Utah was the subspecies Canis lupus youngi, one of 23 subspecies of Canis lupus in North America and Mexico.
Then, for the most part, and certainly today, we are not talking about replicating this vast array of wild, diverse wolves but are forced to take wolf from small portions of Canada, which, of course, harbored numerous subspecies, and literally shove them into our western mountains, pretending only to mimic both the diversity and range of wolves.
That alone suggests why the effort begun half a decade ago with some courage and vision-- and prodding for decades from biologists and conservationists-- can't end. It is inadequate biologically. That is the real test. Simultaneously, it is clear from the hearings that the wolf is deeply cared for. People want it to return home.
While 5-7 subspecies of wolf ranged throughout almost all of the West at one time, the effort today focuses on three isolated geographical areas in 3 states of the Northern Rockies (total number of wolves just over 300 with the MT population actually declining). Yet according to the Wolves of North America, the 3 subspecies of MT, WY, ID, CO and UT covered all of the first four states and about 3/4 of Utah. Those populations, wide-ranging and measured in the thousands and thousands, were eliminated in but a few years, eventually triggering the Endangered Species Act and the listing of the wolf.
But here we are today with the job literally unfinished and because of everything but biology the FWS is proposing to down-list with the clear cascade intent of de-listing the wolf in the Western states. Present wolf populations are disjunct and small, homogenous and fragile, in that survival and growth 'in the wild" has been a short term proposition-- 4-5 years. Every one of these factors runs counter to the standard principles of species recovery-- small, disjunct and short recovery times. And to add insult to this injury, the wolf is a wide-ranging territorial predator-- that is its fundamental ecological/evolutionary behavior. Yet this proposal tries to stop such behavior by holding the wolf to the three geographical ranges now populated, assuring altered behavior and likely weakening of diversity.
Wolves travel and the instant they showed up in NW Montana (proof they travel) and were reintroduced to their native homelands of Yellowstone and central Idaho, it was clear and obvious to have suggested otherwise was intellectually disingenuous-- wolves would seek out other homelands in all directions. The only way this could be hampered would be to attempt to prevent it either physically (not possible) or through management-- in this case, down-listing the species, which assures the safeguards for survival are diminished in favor of archaic attitudes of shooting and killing wolves out of mythic fear or a few lost sheep or calves.
This creates a circle of bad judgment attempting to rationalize the small, short-term recovery and disjunct wolf populations as safe. With such homogenous, isolated populations-- that is certainly the intent of the down/de-listing context-- they aren't safe, as noted. The evidence is in the history. Wolves are wide-ranging and any attempts to short-circuit that results in threats to the wolf populations either from anthropogenic actions or from a variety of stochastic environmental perturbations. Wolves need to be allowed to travel and range widely. This is the only way to attempt to mimic the way the wolf lived 175 years ago.
While down-listing is a goal and should be, and is not inherently wrong, it isn't time, particularly given the cascading proposal offered by the FWS that suggests down-listing now will incidentally lead to de-listing within the next few years. De-listing the wolf will likely result in its never ending harassment, further restricting its ecological behavior and keeping it living on the edge (see Biological, Conservation and Ethical Implications of Exploiting and Controlling Wolves, Haber, Gordon. Conservation Biology, August 1996).
Rather than engaging significant discussions surrounding wolf recovery plans for the West, particularly in places like the Uintas here in Utah (almost one million acres of the Uintas are roadless, designated wilderness or lightly developed landscapes and connected to numerous other National Forest lands, not to mention the direct connection to the high Book Cliffs and Tavaputs Plateau on the south), it seems excuses are being offered to absolve the wolf issue.
The wolf represents a valiant effort not yet completed by the FWS. Why try to abandon it when it represents all that is good with FWS, the ESA and the wildness symbolized by wolf? It is a bit ironic that well over 2,500 wolves survive in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin (and not proposed for de-listing because the states involved have not prepared adequate wolf management plans). These states are hardly public land states with an abundance of wild landscapes, yet here in the West (and the Uintas/Book Cliffs complex in Utah), where at least wildness remains symbolic, the FWS balks at bringing wolf back home and assuring its protection.
Wolf knows the Uintas; it is recognizable. It is home. It is time to come home.