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SALT LAKE CITY -- Last week's apparent killing by wolves of a young woman in Alaska who went jogging has re-energized the argument about wolves in Utah. A prominent hunting group vowed Sunday to turn up the political heat on wolves.
The hunting group has jumped on the tragedy in Alaska. It clearly hopes it will turn public sentiment against wolves and focus attention on their appetite for killing. People who support wolves say it's another example of anti-wolf hysteria.
Alaska teacher Candice Berner is apparently the first person in the U.S. killed by wolves in modern times. Hunters say her death exemplifies a dangerous trend that began in the mid-1990s with a wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone.
Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, says wolves are multiplying exponentially, putting wildlife and people at risk. "Wolves will destroy their food supply, and they'll kill people. That's why our pioneers got rid of wolves in the first place. Wolves are way out of control in the west, and it's time for Congress to step in and reduce wolf populations before they kill people," he says.
But wolf advocate Kirk Robinson says attacks on humans are so rare the fear is hysteria. "This is a very tragic incident. It must have been a horrible death. I don't think we need to fly off the handle and decide that we now have to eradicate entire species because of this," he says.
Hunters say they've spent a fortune on programs to build up big-game herds; now wolves are wiping them out.
"They're destroying our wildlife herds right now John. They destroyed Yellowstone, they're destroying the moose population around Jackson," Peay says.
But Robinson cites data showing that in the three primary wolf reintroduction states, as wolves have increased, the overall elk population has actually gone up.
"In general they have improved the health of ecosystems. There's no question at all about that," he says.
But hunters say elk and moose numbers are plummeting in key hunting areas where wolves are numerous, such as the Lolo District of Idaho and the Gallatin District near Yellowstone. They say there are far more wolves than wolf advocates originally agreed to.
Peay says, "They want wolves to destroy everything we have done, and we're not going to take it anymore, John. This is the beginning of pushing back real hard."
Just last week, Idaho officials said wolves are having a devastating effect on elk in certain key hunting areas. Don Peay made it clear on Sunday, if hunters don't like an upcoming court decision on wolves, they'll take their fight to Congress.