The Southeast Regional Advisory Council for Utah State Division of Wildlife Resources held its regular meeting at the John Wesley Power River History Museum in Green River on Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m.. While the meeting discussed many issues, the wolf management plan was given the most notariety.
Derris Jones reported first about the financial and personnel issues concerning the DWR. The number of on line big game applications is up, but the overall number of applications is down. He also reported that license revenues are down and the sensitive species money has been cut in half. The senate appropriation package is also down by half. He then explained the current vacant positions in the agency including an aquatics manager, an investigator and an office technician.
Jones presented an overall view of the activites of the different departments in the DWR. Among the concerns of the law enforcement department is the increase in mitigation permit violations. He reported that some of the wildlife killings are occuring off private property. Another concern is the importation of fallow deer for sales and ranching. Poaching is an issue in the Book Cliff and Castle Valley areas. He reported that the deer population is on the rise in only two of the districts in the state. The remainder of the areas are showing declining deer populations.
Jones stated the aerial surveys are finished with the LaSal and San Juan areas at or above the objective numbers. He reported on a project to remove wild animals from a private ranch in Emery County. The ranch is fencing the land to promote their hunting business. The native species must be removed prior to this fencing. He also reported on the progress of the big horn sheep transfers.
In the habitat section, all projects are proceeding on schedule. The March meeting will focus on the drought. This drought is officially the worst drought in this area in 108 years and it is having an effect on wildlife. Some improvement is noted in the precipitation forecast.
The last item Jones reported was that Chronic Wasting Disease has been verified in Utah. Of the nearly 1,500 deer tested, one has returned with a positive result. The deer was taken on Diamond Mountain north of Vernal.
Craig McLaughlin, mammal coordinator was next on the agenda. His report concerned the wolf in Utah. McLaughlin informed the audience that he was there to try to dispel some of the rumors and misinformation the public has about the wolf. "This is to be an information only presentation and there will be ample time for public comment in the future," he said.
"The wolf historically claimed much of the North American continent as its home, but extirpation plans and the hatred of the wolf led to its near extinction by 1930. The wolf is a large wild dog that is an adaptable creature and does not need wilderness to survive. It is between 25-32 inches tall, has very long legs and large feet. The coat of the wolf can range from black to gray to tan to white. It has a ruffed neck and its typical tail posture is down.
"The wolf is a predator and will take most wildlife including rabbits, but prefers the larger ungulates, deer and elk. They live in packs of five to seven animals, and sometimes, though rarely, the pack can be comprised of 20 animals. Young are born in April and May. The territory the pack will roam and claim as its own can be anywhere from 250-350 square miles.
"Wolf mortality figures rise and fall with disease, injuries and legal and illegal kills by humans. The amount of range of the wolf declines with the intrusion of human beings into their territory. As people move in, the wolf moves out. In 1974, the federal government listed the wolf as an endangered species and this action placed the wolf under federal protection. In 1995, the re-introduction of the wolf to some of its historical range began, although some natural reoccupation of some areas of Montana is already occuring.
"Recent news of the capture of a Yellowstone wolf in Utah caused great concern among ranchers and sportsmen. Some evidence has been reported such as hearing howling, seeing tracks and a number of sightings. Up to now, the wolf is protected and under federal control. Maybe, as early as before the end of Feb. 2003, the wolf will be down-listed from endangered to threatened status. The federal government will retain authority over the wolf, but some time in the future, possibly as early as 2004, the wolf could be de-listed. This would put the management authority of the wolf with the state.
"Recolonization of the state would require an adequate food supply, no disturbance from man and the space to live, although they do not need a wilderness environment to survive. So the implications are that if wolves would move back into Utah, the conditions would need to be excellent for a long period of time before they could really take hold. In the northern Rockies, there are presently about 700 wolves. Montana and Idaho have wolf management plans in place, Wyoming's plan remains in process.
"Utah State University is studying the habitat possibilities in the state. Somes areas of high probability are available to the wolf but road density, slope, elevation, prey numbers, climate and livestock all play a part in the equation.
"The Utah State Legislature has drafted a resolution that urges the timely de-listing of the wolf and urges the DWR to draft a wolf management plan. This resolution also urges the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to reject more recovery areas. Preparation for grant proposals to reimburse for wolf damage is also included.
"The DWR has been doing studies, planning and working for the event of the wolf policy. The mission of the DWR is to ensure the future of all protected wildlife. We know wolf management is a complex and emotional issue, and Utah has the time to formulate and develop a good wolf mangement plan," said McLaughlin.
The RAC moved on to the Black Bear revisions for 2003. Due to an incident of a mishandled bear in 2002, the policy needed upgrading. The new policy increases tolerance, creates more balance, uses non-lethal methods of bear handling and strives to educate the public. This agenda item was an action item and after some discussion of the changes in policy the RAC board approved the changes.
Peggy Miller explained the rule changes for the collection, possession, transportation and importation of reptiles and amphibians also, the rule for collection, possession, transportation and importation of zoological animals. Miller reviewed the current rules and the changes. The RAC voted to approve these changes.
Marty Bushman, the attorney for the DWR, presented an amendment to the ajudicated proceedings rule concerning all having been documented. Pika surveys in the LaSal and Abajo Mountains have also been finished. Project animals for 2003 are the kit fox, bats and the golden eagle.
Craig Walker informed the RAC that the aquatics division has determined two species that are considered potentially endangered. Concerning the boreal toads, two specimens have been found in the San Rafael drainage and they are still conducting searches in the Price River drainage.
Justin Hart reported that the treatment of Duck Fork will be evaluated in the spring, as soon as conditions allow access. If re-treatment is deemed necessary, that will take place. Hart explained the process for determining the genetic purity of the Colorado cutthroat.
The next meeting of the Southeast RAC will be March 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River.