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State biologist Brian Maxfield offered his best wolf impersonation a half dozen times into the dark without any response.

It was approaching midnight when he took a deep breathe and howled for all he was worth.

This time, there was an answer.

"I wasn't expecting anything, but there is no doubting a wolf howl once you have heard one," said Maxfield, a wildlife conservation biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "It is a little unnerving to be by yourself at 11,000 feet and hear something howling back.

"When your hair is standing up on the back of your neck, you know it is a wolf and not a coyote."

A collared, 4-year-old male apparently howled back Aug. 28 while Maxfield was investigating sightings of a gray wolf on the south slope of the Uinta Mountains in Duchesne County.

The wolf would eventually be spotted by at least three groups of people and identified by the frequency of its dying radio collar as part of the Boundary Pack from Idaho's panhandle region near the Canadian border. The wolf roamed roughly 850 miles as the crow flies from where the solitary male was first spotted in Utah.

The multiple sightings this fall come two years after the last reported glimpses of the large carnivores in Utah. In 2012, a coyote-control crew spotted four wild canines — either wolves or wolf-dog hybrids — roaming eastern Utah County.

This most recent wolf was spotted in Yellowstone Canyon north of Altamont when it walked across the road.

It was spotted again by people calling in coyotes, and finally by elk hunters before it appeared to head into Colorado or Wyoming.

The radio collar signal was last picked up in Utah on Sept. 19. Hunters have been out in the mountains of Utah since then and there have been no new reports.

"When Idaho put the collar on him, they estimated the battery life at about a year and half. That was a year and a half ago," Maxfield said. "The signal was not very strong. We think the wolf left the state or its collar died. Since no one has reported seeing him, we think he likely left."

Biologists believe the adult male was probably looking for a female mate in its wanderings and will continue to search until he finds one or takes up residence with a pack along the way.

It is also possible the wolf was killed and the collar destroyed.

Maxfield said he investigates about a dozen wolf sightings each year in northeastern Utah. His howling has drawn just one other response — near Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

The collar worn by the wolf may have included a GPS unit that either sent a signal to a satellite or could have been downloaded upon retrieval, but it seems not to have been working. Utah wildlife officers are trying to track down that information if it is available.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) director Greg Sheehan said this is not the first, or last, time a wolf will visit the state.

"It is amazing to me the distance wildlife will travel," Sheehan said. "What path did he take to get here?"

Sheehan believes there are no breeding pairs currently in Utah.

Wolves are protected in Utah under the Endangered Species Act.

The Utah Legislature told wildlife managers in 2010 to prevent any packs of wolves from establishing within the northern corner of Utah — the area north of Interstate 80 where wolves are delisted, or not protected. Under that law, the state wildlife agency must ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove wolves from Utah where they fall under the Endangered Species Act.

Once wolves are delisted, the Utah Wolf Management Plan, which allows for two breeding pairs of wolves in the state, would be used to manage the animals.

Kirk Robinson, executive director of Utah-based Western Wildlife Conservancy, was excited to hear that another wolf had ventured into the state.

"I wish it well. Now that the gray wolf has been relisted in Wyoming, there are better chances of wolves coming into Utah," he said. "It is only a matter of time, if we allow it."

Robinson is troubled by the reaction of Utah officials whenever a wolf visits the state.

"It is always hysteria. Frankly, I find that a childish reaction," he said. "I know there are certain pressures to respond. But wolves have been wandering around Utah and have never been detected, and yet our first reaction is to get rid of them somehow. It doesn't help wolves. It doesn't help people learn to be tolerant of wolves."

Robinson and Sheehan agree that the Uinta Mountains are an important wildlife area. Back in February a wolverine was captured on a trail camera in the Uintas — the first documented case of that species in Utah in more than three decades.

"We need to protect places like the Uintas," Robinson said. "The Uintas may never harbor a viable population of either of those species, but they are still a vital corridor for them and may be essential for preserving a large meta population."

Twitter: @BrettPrettyman

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