|Mike Bodenchuk talks about wolves at the Southeastern RAC meeting.|
After four hours of discussion, comments, questions and presentations the Southeastern Utah Division of Wildlife Resources RAC came to a decision on a recommendation to be taken to the Wildlife Board in their June 9 meeting.
A vocal crowd gathered at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River to voice comments and concerns about letting wolves reestablish themselves in Utah. Kevin Bunnell from the DWR explained that the Utah Wolf Working Group was formed in the summer of 2003, it is comprised of 13 members plus alternates. The group met 13 times from Nov.-2003-April-2005 with one meeting remaining on May 31 to discuss all the recommendations from the RACs throughout the state. The group agreed to a consensus minus two in decision making. If more than two members of the group couldn't agree on an issue then it didn't make it into the plan. The discussions took the form of lively debate and not infrequent disagreement between group members.
The Wolf Management Plan will guide management of wolves in Utah during an interim period from delisting until 2015, or until it is determined that wolves have established. Upon establishment, the plan will be revised. During this interim period, arriving wolves will be studied to determine where they are most likely to settle without conflict. The goal of this plan is to manage, study and conserve wolves moving into Utah while avoiding conflicts with the wildlife management objectives of the Ute Indian Tribe; preventing livestock depredation and protecting the investment made in wildlife in Utah.
Under this plan wolves will be allowed to disperse into Utah, and be conserved, except when or where: wolves conflict with the management objectives of the Ute Indian Tribe; wolves cause unacceptable livestock depredation; or wolves contribute to wildlife populations not meeting management objectives as defined by the Utah Wildlife Board's predator management policy.
Livestock owners will be fully compensated for losses of livestock to wolves. Under the plan six strategies are proposed: develop and implement outreach programs; manage wolf/human interactions to benefit both humans and wolves; develop and implement wolf monitoring and research programs; manage wolf/wildlife interactions to meet the objectives of this plan; control livestock depredation and fully compensate livestock owners for losses of livestock to wolves; provide funding for wolf management.
The wolf group could not agree on the following issues which were left unresolved: Lethal control actions permitted for wolves harassing livestock on private or public lands. The group considered options but could not agree by using the consensus minus two standard. Options discussed: Lethal control not allowed; lethal control allowed with permit from DWR; allowed with a permit obtained in advance through training; allowed without a permit.
Lethal actions permitted for wolves in the act of biting or grasping livestock on private or public lands options considered but not agreed to included: lethal control by livestock owner or regular employee allowed without permit; action must be reported to the DWR within 72 hours.
Bunnell explained that the wolf was one of the first animals listed on the endangered species list. In 2002, recovery goals were met for the wolves which included 30 breeding pairs in the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. It was planned that wolves would be delisted as soon as these states had management plans for wolves in place at the state level. Montana and Idaho do have these plans in place and the Wyoming plan is currently in litigation which has delayed any delisting by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service board.
Scoping meetings were held throughout the state in 2004 to gather input from citizens concerning wolves. Approximately 1,000 people attended these meetings statewide. The overwhelming consensus of those at the meetings was not to allow wolves into Utah. Opposition to wolves numbered at 958 comments in the scoping meetings. A University of Utah graduate student surveyed by telephone, 709 randomly chosen people from both urban and rural areas on their attitude towards wolves. He received favorable response to wolves, people in general liked wolves as a part of a healthy ecosystem. "There is a diversity of opinions on wolves," said Bunnell.
Bunnell pointed out the Utah plan would not become effective until the wolf is delisted. Any wolves entering Utah now are under the jurisdiction of the USFWS.
Mike Bodenchuk from the USDA Wildlife Services spoke to the group. He said wolves get into trouble and they kill livestock. To try to prevent livestock kills, producers would use nonlethal methods. But when depredation occurs and killings continue, the producer is not under obligation to continue using nonlethal methods. Nonlethal methods include guard dogs, rubber bullets, tracking wolves with radio-collars, electric fences, flattery, etc. When a producer sees tracks they can report it to the DWR and noninjurious harassment of the wolves is allowed. Injurious actions against wolves would require a permit. These actions can drive wolves off for a time. A professional evaluation can also be requested. There isn't a difference between activities on public and private lands.
Bodenchuck said the wolf group couldn't decide if producers should be able to take lethal control of the wolf doing the harassing. A permittee can shoot a cougar or bear in the act of grasping. Recommended livestock losses would be reimbursed at market value of the animal had it lived to go to market; a confirmed loss would be reimbursed at 100 percent, a probable loss at 75 percent and a possible loss at 50 percent. The Department of Agriculture provides the information to the DWR on current market values. Only one of every 6.6 kills is found. There would be compensation for missing livestock by applying the multiplier effect. Until delisting, compensation comes from the Fish and Wildlife Service. State statutes do not allow the using of any wildlife permit money for any compensation. Money for these purposes would have to come from other sources. The endangered species donate $7,000 a year for livestock reimbursements.
Estimates for costs involved with wolves included $30,000 for research and monitoring with amounts varying from $10,000 to $120,000 each year depending on the level of research involved. Costs would also be incurred for private land incentives, outreach programs, Ute tribe and law enforcement. Estimates for having wolves in the state of Utah varied between $119,000-$254,000 per year.
The USFWS cannot delist the wolf unless a state plan is in place. This plan must be approved by the USFWS. A plan can keep Utah from being included in wolf recovery. The USFWS is not interested in taking an active role in reintroducing wolves into Utah.
One RAC member asked if would be to the state's advantage to let the USFWS manage any wolves coming into Utah. Bodenchuk said the USFWS can only take action on livestock depredation not any big game issues. If the DWR has control over the wolf the predator money can be used and they can take action if a state plan is in place.
Bruce Adams said $253,000 a year seemed like a lot of money to just manage 20 wolves.
Jim Gilson, RAC chairman questioned the makeup of the wolf working group and pointed out that conservation groups seemed to out number the others in the group. Gilson said Utah is not required to have wolves and is not part of the recovery area.
The three states involved are taking the lead in studying impacts. Their research can be used and doesn't have to be done again. They are monitoring impacts closely.
"Where in Utah could wolves ever establish where they don't have conflicts," said Gilson. Bodenchuk pointed out large areas in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho with vast expanses of uninhabited mountainous areas quite suitable for wolves. None of these exist in Utah. "Sooner or later wolves will kill livestock," said Bodenchuk.
Gilson asked what would happen now with the current status of wolves if one came into Utah and started killing livestock. Bodenchuk said the USFWS can take lethal control in regards to any wolf who gets into trouble.
The meeting was opened to comments from the public. Terry Johnson, concerned sportsmen, said he sees wolf establishment as a detriment to wildlife herds. Kurt Robinson from the Western Wildlife Conservancy urged the RAC board to approve the draft proposal. He said the wolf is not a typical RAC issue and the plan was developed with the help of experts and should be treated with fairness and constructive recommendations. He said Colorado recently passed legislation to allow wolves to roam freely in the state. Oregon also recently allowed eight pairs in their state. Robinson also recommended the board reject the Farm Bureau's recommendations for changes to the plan. He said his group has plans to hold a 5K run to raise funds to go towards wolves.
One Moab resident said he believes if any alterations are made to the plan it will result in the plan going to court. He would like to see wolves reestablish in Utah to eat some of the animals which are sick from chronic wasting disease.
Sterling Brown from the Utah Farm Bureau presented their proposed additions to the plan.
Erik Grover from the San Juan County Livestock Association said he is a father and his children help out a lot on the ranch and what compensation is there if a wolf takes a child. He read part of an article where a wolf was tracking a pack animal on the Salmon River and the wolf came after the woman in the story. "Don't buy the idea that wolves are afraid of people," said Grover.
Wes Shields from the CMWU said they supported the additions and recommendations being made by Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and other associated groups. He said he worked for the DWR for 32 years and they worked the entire time on expanding elk populations and it doesn't make sense to undo what's been accomplished. In the CMWU they work with landowners to keep open space and maintain it for wildlife habitat and he feels the establishment of wolves will threaten those partnerships gained.
Jason Branson read the statement from the SFW.
Lloyd Nielson expressed concern that the public opinion had no weight in the scoping meetings, because the no wolf recommendations were ignored and the survey taken was taken more seriously than the no wolf stance of the 1,000 meeting goers. "I'm insulted and I think that's wrong," said Nielson, "Bodenchuk stated that wolves will cause problems."
Leon McElprang said he wears many hats, dad, rancher, deer and elk hunter. "Our ancestors got rid of the wolves. They affected them. They hurt them. There was a reason they got rid of them. They look like trouble to me," said McElprang. He commented on if his cow went across the stateline he'd have to go and get it and it should be the same with the people in charge of the wolves.
Mont Gee expressed concern that even though the wolf has met its target objective in pair numbers it still hasn't been delisted.
Emery County Commissioner Drew Sitterud who also sits on the RAC read the county comments and comments from the public lands council.
Jordan Hatch reminded everyone that when the energy industries are gone, that agriculture and livestock will remain.
Lyle Bayles said the wolf group shouldn't have sent the plan to the RACs with unresolved items in it.
San Juan Commissioner Adams expressed concern that the Navajo nation wasn't represented in the wolf group and herding sheep is one of their main industries.
Walt Maldonado said that reestablishing wolves in Utah is like introducing, "piranhas into Lake Powell."
Laura Kamala from the RAC recommended the board reject the proposals from the Farm Bureau and the Sportsmen and adopt the plan as written.
Gilson said a number of proposals had been made and he approached each one separately. If a motion was made but not seconded it died. If a motion was made, seconded and then voted down, it died. The proposal to accept the plan as is, died. The proposal to accept the plan with the Farm Bureau and the Sportsmen requests died.
In the end the vote was 6-3 to accept the draft wolf plan as written with the additions of the Farm Bureau recommendations. The wolf group will meet again on May 31 and the Wildlife Board will have the final say at their June 9 meeting in Salt Lake. Other RAC meetings were held in Beaver, Roosevelt, Springville and Brigham City.