Utah now has a plan to manage wolves that may one day make their way here from surrounding states.
The Utah Wildlife Board, a panel of seven citizens appointed by former Gov. Mike Leavitt, approved the plan June 9 after hearing comments from several people, including representatives of agriculture and conservation groups and citizens representing Utah's five public Regional Advisory Councils.
"This plan is an important step in the state of Utah being allowed to manage wolves in a way that benefits the state the most," said Kevin Bunnell, mammals program coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources.
Wolves are currently listed on the federal threatened and endangered species list. All wolf management is handled by the federal government. This leaves Utah with little say in how wolves are managed in the state.
"An important component in getting wolves off the federal list is for states to have regulations that ensure wolves will receive adequate protection if they're taken off the federal list," Bunnell said. "We feel the plan the Wolf Working Group put together will meet this requirement."
While much of the plan can't be implemented until wolves are taken off the federal list, some parts of the plan, such as researching and monitoring wolves that arrive here, can begin immediately.
Utah's Wolf Management Plan will be available for public review on the DWR Web site beginning July 1.
Wolf plan highlights:
The plan the board approved includes several amendments brought to the board by an agricultural group which consisted of several groups, including the Utah Farm Bureau and the Utah Wool Growers Association. The amendments had already been approved by Utah's five public Regional Advisory Councils.
Taking wolves that kill or harass livestock
Once wolves are taken off the federal list, ranchers in Utah will be allowed to kill wolves they find killing or harassing their sheep, cattle or other livestock.
Ranchers will not be required to obtain a permit to take wolves that kill or harass their livestock. They also will not be required to use non-lethal methods before killing wolves. While non-lethal methods are not required, many ranchers already employ non-lethal methods, such as guard dogs and herders, to protect their livestock.
The DWR or the USDA-Wildlife Services also will respond to livestock depredation and may remove wolves following the confirmation that wolves have killed livestock.
Payments for livestock loss:
How to compensate ranchers for the livestock they lose to wolves, and where the compensation money will come from, will be determined by the Utah legislature.
The board passed a recommendation to the legislature that livestock owners be compensated 100 percent for all livestock loss that is either confirmed, probably or possibly linked to wolves. The board also passed a recommendation that a system be set up to compensate ranchers for additional animals that may have been lost to wolves but can't be found.
Protecting big game populations:
Board members also directed the DWR to determine ways to deal with wolves if they negatively impact a big game population. An example of a negative impact would be a deer, elk and bighorn sheep population not meeting population objectives in the state's management plans.
The proposed actions the DWR will draft will be taken to the public for comment at a future series of public meetings.
Utah has big game management plans that set various population objectives that the state's deer, elk and bighorn sheep populations must meet. If populations aren't meeting those objectives, more cougars and bears may be taken as one way to try and help the big game populations recover. Wolves could be added to the list of predators that might be taken to help those populations recover.
"Any taking of wolves that are impacting a big game population would be done by either the DWR or USDA-Wildlife Services," Bunnell said.
Paying for wolf management in Utah:
Board members also passed a recommendation to the Utah legislature that the DWR be provided with additional funding to manage wolves and to mitigate for the impacts wolves may have on Utah's wildlife.
An example of mitigation might be additional funding given to the DWR if the agency tried to reestablish a bighorn sheep population and the success of the transplant was affected by wolves. The additional funding would allow the agency to try the transplant again.
Wolf Working Group:
Bunnell praised the 13-person Wolf Working Group that put the plan together. The DWR assembled the group in the summer of 2003. The group included hunters, wolf advocates, ranchers and other people with wolf-related interests.
"The group should be complimented for tackling a very controversial issue and for being willing to see the process through and compromise where they felt they could," Bunnell said.
Bunnell believes it was a good idea to put the group together. "Putting a group like this together is a way of making sure all of the affected parties are represented so you have a plan that's balanced instead of a plan that's biased towards one group or another," he said.
Wolves in the Western United States:
Wolves, which were exterminated in the western United States by 1940, were reintroduced to the greater Yellowstone Park area by the federal government. A total of 66 wolves were released in the area in 1995 and 1996. Since then, the population has expanded to 835 wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
"This wolf population has grown faster than anyone could have imagined," Bunnell said. "I believe it's just a matter of time before some of those wolves make their way here."