This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
An agreement signed Friday in an effort to solve the controversy of managing wolves in the Western United States angered a prominent Utah hunting group, caught the state's wildlife director by surprise and charted a collision course with a law passed by the Utah state Legislature in 2010.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 10 environmental groups agreed in federal court to allow Montana and Idaho to manage wolf populations, including the use of hunting in areas where state biologists have determined there are too many of the predators.
But the full protection of the federal Endangered Species Act would remain in effect in Utah, Washington, Oregon and Wyoming.
Don Peay, the founder of Utah-based Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and a frequent critic of federal wolf management, was not impressed.
"Who really cares what a bunch of attorneys say about wildlife management?" asked Peay. "Congress needs to act so wildlife managers, not federal judges or attorneys from environmental or hunting groups, manage wildlife."
Peay's group and a separate group it sponsors, Big Game Forever, have been lobbying Congress to pass a law taking the wolf off the endangered species list and allowing state wildlife management agencies to manage it. The Utah Legislature endorsed that position in a joint resolution passed during its past session.
The agreement caught Utah Division of Wildlife Resources director Jim Karpowitz by surprise.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service did not consult or even notify us that this was coming," he said. "We are completely in the dark as to how it may apply to us. It would have been nice to have been consulted. We have wolves in Utah, we have a wolf management plan and are interested in the whole process and yet we have not been consulted."
The agreement also conflicts with a law passed by the 2010 Utah Legislature that mandates that any wolf that comes into Utah will be killed unless the federal government de-lists the species in the entire state. If the wolf is de-listed, a policy passed by the Utah Wildlife Board would kick into place allowing for two packs of wolves to reside in the state. At that point or in 2015, whichever comes first, a new wolf plan would be written for wildlife board approval.
Conservation groups that included Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity that had sued the federal government issued a statement saying they hoped the agreement will mark a new era of wolf conservation, while confirming the success of the Endangered Species Act in protecting wolves that had been reintroduced into the Yellowstone area.
"In return for allowing the states of Montana and Idaho to manage wolves according to approved conservation plans, the Department of Interior agrees to conduct rigorous scientific monitoring of wolf populations across the region and an independent scientific review by an expert advisory board after three years," the 10 groups said in a joint statement.
"This is a critical safety net to ensure a sustainable wolf population in the region over the long run. The settlement offers a workable solution to the increasingly polarized debate over wolves."
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency will work with state officials in Utah, Oregon and Washington to address wolf-management issues. It retains the option to consider reclassifying wolves from endangered to threatened in those states in order to provide more management flexibility.
Separate negotiations between Fish and Wildlife and Wyoming are continuing in an effort to hammer out a management plan there, where hunters and ranchers would be able to kill any wolf on site in much of the state.
Wyoming has been a stumbling block in the agreement to get wolf populations, believed to be just under 1,700 in the Rocky Mountains, taken off the endangered species list.
"For too long, management of wolves in this country has been caught up in controversy and litigation instead of rooted in science, where it belongs," said Deputy U.S. Department of Interior secretary David Hayes. "This proposed settlement provides a path forward to recognize the successful recovery of the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains and to return its management to states and tribes."