WOLF HEARING IN SLC!
"A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world." Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac
I. WILL WOLVES BE WELCOMED BACK TO THE UINTAS?
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.
Wolf knows the Uintas; it is recognizable. It is home.
We all know the drill. Wolves roamed Utah (the Uintas, in particular) and this nation but were poisoned, trapped and shot by the thousands to make way for sheep, cows and modern day big game management. The real howl has faded here in Utah, but is mimicked daily by little kids, the domestic, lazy and goofy wolf, our dogs, and almost as a chant by many of us who want so desperately to share this place, the Uintas, with wild creatures-- wolf, in particular.
While choices are rarely black and white and conservation issues always complex, we have finally arrived at a junction of sorts. After talking and pushing and hoping and even praying for wolves to come home, we can finally do something that might help a few lone wolves slip in by night and be welcomed by day. Whether they will be two dimensional items for a text book or real live subjects in a wild world rests to some extent on our shoulders.
II. A BIT OF BACKGROUND ON WOLVES IN THE WEST
In 1995-96 the USFWS reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and central Idaho, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. A few years earlier wolves had naturally migrated into northwestern Montana from Canada. A few years later the re-introduction effort into southern New Mexico and Arizona was initiated. Wolves were to one degree or another well established in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and, of course, Alaska.
The gray wolf was one of the first species protected by the Endangered Species Act in the early 1970s. All wolves, even if not present in population segments where high quality habitat exists, in the USA, including UT, are protected as endangered except those in Alaska. Wolves in Minnesota are protected as threatened and the Yellowstone and Idaho populations are considered experimental, nonessential populations (basically a threatened status).
Recovery plans were established, amid some meaningful controversy, as to whether they were adequate. USFWS proposed delisting the wolf under the ESA if all three populations (YNP, ID & MT) in the Western Gray Wolf Distinct Population Segment (WG WDPS--MT, WY, OR, WA, ID, CO, UT, northern AZ & NM) harbor 10 breeding pairs for 3 year. The USFWS, under the same controversy, proposed downlisting the wolf from endangered to threatened if within two populations the same criteria had been met.
The YNP (~118 wolves) and ID (~141 wolves) populations have met this criteria. (The MT population has declined.) While there are no wolf packs in Utah, under this proposal the wolf would be downlisted.
Right now if wolves from the experimental, non-essential (threatened) YNP or ID population were to establish themselves on the North Slope of the Uintas, for example, they would receive full endangered status-- meaning the wolves could not be killed, taken or harassed. Under the proposed downlisting, the threatened status would still provide protection and management by the USFWS but not as strenuous. Wolves could be removed, killed, or trapped for various purposes. USFWS hopes to delist the wolf within the next 2-4 years, which means the wolf would no longer be protected by the ESA and now be managed by the predator-combative Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). We would be standing in front of UDWR, the Regional Advisory Cou ncils and the Utah Wildlife Board begging for the wolf while they set trapping and hunting regulations to diminish its presence much the way they have done all in their power to keep bear and cougar populations at the brink of survival.
Few independent biologists consider the recovery targets adequate. Populations are small, disjunct and
limited in geographic scope. That is why wolves must be kept endangered under the ESA while populations establish themselves in similar numbers and criteria throughout the high quality habitat within the WGWDPS, for example, the Uintas. Until that happens the viability of wild wolf populations in the West will not be stable. Wildland, corridors, and numerous independent but mingling popula tions of the wide-ranging wolf are essential to survival of the species here in the Uintas as well as throughout the West.
III. WHAT TO DO:
Imagine 100 of us saying, "Wolf belongs in the Uintas and should be fully protected until viable and established." That is what it will take because the next round of hearings will take place this winter before the UDWR Regional Wildlife Councils. To set the stage for that hostility, our voices must make the wolf howl real.
Dick Carter and Margaret Pettis