A Wolf Story — From Our Own Backyard

Up to this point, Utah has largely been spared any major role in the wolf debate that has been raging for the past 20 years or so in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.

Wolf Howling Image 2Wolves have been on the threatened and/or endangered species list in much of the West for decades.  In 1995, despite much opposition from ranching and agricultural interests,  Northern gray wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park.  The concern was that it wouldn’t take the wolves long to leave the Park and start preying on livestock.

In the years since then wolf numbers have flourished, creating a bitter dispute between ranchers and environmentalists, and between affected states and the federal government, which has sought to exercise its power to dictate policy in an area that had long been left to the states — wildlife management.

Based on reproductive levels, numbers have grown to the point that wolves have now been removed from the endangered species list in large areas of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.  Because ranchers are allowed to shoot wolves under certain circumstances involving confirmed livestock killing, other wildlife have now taken center stage in the debate, based on allegations that wolves are decimating other wildlife populations, especially including elk, in areas where wolves have become most prevalent.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 6.28.15 AMIt has been thought that it was just a matter of time before wolves would start moving into Utah, and there have been growing wolf sightings in the far Northeast corner of the state that borders Wyoming and Idaho.

According to multiple media sources, however, it has now been reported that a young female wolf was killed in the mountains near Beaver, Utah, when hunters mistook the young wolf for a coyote.

This story may be a game changer as the wolf debate moves to Utah.  If comments on ksl.com’s version of the article are any indication, it will be an active discussion, with the story receiving almost 200 comments within the first 12 hours of being posted.

SALT LAKE CITY — State wildlife officials have confirmed that a young female wolf was shot and killed in Beaver County, the first documented killing of a wolf in Utah in several years.

The men were hunting coyotes when they shot and killed the animal Sunday night near the south end of the Tushar Mountains.

They found a collar on it, and wildlife officials said the collar was first attached to the animal for identification and tracking purposes in January 2014 in Cody, Wyoming. The northern gray wolf was about 3 years old, and officials are terming the killing a case a mistaken identity.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 6.08.56 AMThe Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said reports of wolf sightings are on the rise in Utah, but biologists have so far been unable to confirm if there are any breeding pairs or an actual pack.

In 2010, two wolves were killed after attacking Utah livestock. Most of the sightings have been in counties that border Idaho and Wyoming.

“I think it was very sad a wolf was killed,” said Kirk Robinson with Western Wildlife Conservancy. “This is suspect.”

Robinson blamed the shooting on the state’s coyote bounty, in which hunters can collect cash for killing the predators.

In Utah, ranchers may shoot wolves, but only in an area north of I-80 and east of I-84 to the Wyoming and Idaho lines. The animal is protected under the Endangered Species Act, although there has been a concerted campaign by ranchers and others to get it removed altogether from being listed.

In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorities confirmed that a female northern Rockies gray wolf was roaming the North Kaibab National Forest near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

According to wildlife officials, the first modern wolf confirmed in Utah after the species was exterminated from the state was captured on Nov. 30, 2002. It was a collared animal from Yellowstone National Park, and it was returned to the park.

Since then, there have been scattered reports of wolves making short trips into Utah from Wyoming or Idaho.

Although wolves have failed to take up permanent residency in the state, Utah lawmakers have not taken any chances of a probable return and want federal restrictions lifted.

The state has spent $800,000 to get the animal delisted, hiring a lobbyist to work politicians in Washington, D.C., and bureaucrats with the U.S. Department of Interior.

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