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What is Utah's responsibility to save the Mexican gray wolf?

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert joined governors from the other Four Corners states in pushing back against the federal government's latest effort to revise a recovery plan for the wolves, whose numbers in the wild are down to about 100 animals.

In their letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last month, one key argument of the governors is that the subspecies of wolf never roamed as far north as Utah and Colorado before they were eradicated, so the states are not appropriate for taking them now. The Utah Wildlife Board has reiterated that in its own letter.

The governors are arguing that the scientific deck is stacked against them in the recovery plan because it includes scientists who dispute the argument that Mexican wolves never made it here. It's likely wolves were in Utah at some point, but it's hard to know which sub-species.

Further, when the intent is to save a species, the federal Endangered Species Act does not require that it can only be saved on land where it had historically roamed. If the science shows that land is suitable for a recovery effort, the feds can consider it for recovery.

The effort is severely complicated by the fact that, historically, half or more of the Mexican gray wolves were in Mexico. As a result, the governors are pushing for a recovery effort that is more centered on Mexico. The effort should be international, but it's also a reality that Mexico does not have the laws or the political will to take wolf recovery as far as the United States can.

What's more, with or without wolves, the habitat is not standing still, and that is due to climate change. The temperature-associated changes that have begun and will continue may indeed make the U.S. more of the wolves' future range, even if it wasn't their past range. In other words, the historical argument may be just that, history.

The governors are not arguing against a recovery plan, but they do want a greater role in shaping that plan, and that is reasonable and appropriate. But if they truly want to bring back the wolves (and they should), they may have to accept that they may move north. (There is no plan to introduce them in Utah.)

So what's to fear about Mexican wolves? The Utah Wildlife Board's letter says its a "direct threat to successful wildlife management in Utah." Strong words, but the reasoning behind it is that the wolves will reduce big-game populations, which in turn will reduce the state's income from hunting licenses, which provides a large chunk of the funding for wildlife management.

In other words, the board argues that the state's level of wildlife protection should be dictated by how many animals hunters can kill. That is absurd for reasons beyond the Mexican wolf, particularly when the number of Utahns who hunt is declining.

What is Utah's responsibility to the Mexican gray wolf? The answer should reflect the will of all Utahns, not just the ones with guns.