SALT LAKE CITY -- Some Utah lawmakers are taking steps to make war on wolves.
A proposed bill requires the state to kill or capture any wolf that comes into Utah. The chief sponsor says, if the feds don't like it, he's ready to fight them too.
Wolves were nearly wiped out by ranchers decades ago. But since their re-introduction in the 1990s, federal law has protected them.
The bill's sponsor says this will be a "state's rights" year in the Legislature, and he's willing to fight the wolf battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wolves are prized by many as the predator at the top of the food chain, helping maintain the balance of nature.
The division (of Wildlife Resources) shall capture or kill any wolf it discovers in the state, except for a wolf lawfully held in captivity.
–provision in S.B. 36
Kirk Robinson of the Western Wildlife Conservancy said, "Wolves benefit the ecosystem and many other species."
But they are detested by others who favor more wildlife for hunting and safer livestock for agriculture.
"We don't have wolves in Utah right now, supposedly, and we don't want them here," said Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.
Christensen's bill requires state wildlife workers to kill or capture any wild wolf that enters the state.
"They serve no real useful purpose, and my bill simply says 'you're not welcome here,'" Christensen said.
Robinson said he's not concerned yet. "I'm not terribly worried right now because, as it stands, it's unconstitutional, and it will never have a chance," he said. "Even if it passes, it would be shot down in the courts."
Even the Office of Legislative Research says there's a "high probability" the bill would lose in court because wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. But Christensen is eager for a legal shootout with the feds over states' rights.
"We're willing to spend private money to take it all the way to the supreme court," Christensen said.
The dueling camps throw around conflicting numbers on how wolves have affected livestock and wildlife since they were reintroduced in Yellowstone 14 years ago.
Christensen said, "They've just wiped out the elk populations. Elk are their No. 1 preferred meal."
However, Robinson refutes that claim: "In fact there are more elk in that area now than there were at the time they were reintroduced. They're not hurting at all."
Christensen is unapologetic for believing "man" should be in charge, not "nature."
"I'm at the top of the food chain, and I intend to stay there. That is an arrogant statement. Absolutely. But I believe it wholeheartedly," he said.
Some have wondered if this might be a "message bill" designed to make a statement rather than get something done. But Christensen denies it. He says it's for real and he means to keep wolves from getting a foothold in Utah.