Why must Utah be kept free of wolves?

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Minnesotans have lived peacefully with 3,000 gray wolves for decades, so why can't we do it here in Utah?

The recovery area for the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies is larger than the state of Texas, encompassing all of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, plus the eastern thirds of Washington and Oregon and the part of Utah bounded by I-80 and I-84. Within this vast area there were an estimated 1,650 wolves at the end of 2009 -- the same number as the previous year. Presently there are no known wolves in Utah. The group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife aims to keep it that way.

Substitute Senate Bill 36 will require the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to "manage wolves to prevent the establishment of a viable pack" from forming within the Utah portion of the gray wolf recovery area. This would effectively result in the removal of any wolves found within the area, either by translocation or by lethal means.

Significantly, this part of Utah is the portal through which wolves have been migrating through Utah in the years since their reintroduction to Yellowstone. Wolf No. 253 from Yellowstone, known as Limpy, was the first and most famous of these.

It seems counterintuitive, but wolves are no longer a federally protected species within the portal, yet are protected throughout the rest of the state. Thus, enactment of Substitute SB36, unlike its ancestor bill, would not be unconstitutional. By this means some sportsmen and ranchers aim to ensure that wolves never get a foothold in the portal for fear that they will expand from there into other parts of Utah.

There are a number of other things wrong with this picture:

First, there is already a Utah Wolf Management Plan in place that will allow up to two packs to form, at which time a review of the plan would be triggered. It also allows for removal of problem wolves and includes a generous compensation package for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves.

The development of this plan was chartered by the Utah Legislature in 2003, championed by the DWR, and adopted by the Legislature in 2005. It was created by an arduous process involving 13 representatives of a diverse group of stakeholders, including sportsmen and ranchers.

It would be helpful, therefore, if the DWR would now take a public position: Either wholeheartedly defend the plan or explain to us why it should be replaced with a zero-tolerance program.

Second, contrary to what the supporters of the bill are saying, a recent survey showed that most Utahns have a favorable opinion of wolves and would like to have wolves reoccupy suitable parts of their historic range in Utah.

Third, according to information published by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the number of elk in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming has increased by 88 percent in the last 35 years and by 14 percent since wolves were reintroduced.

Fourth, the respective state wildlife management agencies of the three states report that elk populations are at objective in most management units, above objective in many of them, and below objective in only a few of them.

Fifth, according to a decade-long study, the moose population in western Wyoming is not declining because of wolves, but for lack of nutrition.

Sixth, a huge amount of research is showing that wolves are an essential component of healthy ecosystems and watersheds in the West.

Seventh, from a moral perspective it's high time that we begin to manage our wildlife, our ecosystems and our watersheds for the benefit of all wildlife and all humanity, now and into the future, rather than sacrifice these worthy goals in order to raise as many ungulates as possible for trophy hunters to shoot.

Kirk Robinson is executive director of Western Wildlife Conservancy in Salt Lake City.