Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
SALT LAKE CITY — Wildlife managers and public policymakers are gearing up for the day that wolves make a strong showing in Utah.
Legislation that will be introduced in January's general session aims to have wolves reclassified as a game animal like a bear or mountain lion, an early step to a sanctioned wolf hunt.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Alan Christensen, R-North Ogden, is mainly housekeeping at this point because except for in a small portion of northern Utah, wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Nor are there any established wolf packs in Utah.
"We have transients that come in from other states from time to time, but we are not aware of any resident wolves or any breeding taking place in the state," said Kevin Bunnell, wildlife section chief with the Division of Wildlife Resources.
Still, Bunnell said the goal is to be prepared.
This is a housekeeping bill in anticipation that at some point, wolves will be delisted and we will have some management authority in the state. If and when we have that, and we can offer some harvest of wolves, we would be ready for that.
–Kevin Bunnell, wildlife section chief with the Division of Wildlife Resources.
"This is a housekeeping bill in anticipation that at some point, wolves will be delisted and we will have some management authority in the state. If and when we have that, and we can offer some harvest of wolves, we would be ready for that."
Wolves have long been the nemesis of ranchers who bemoan livestock kills to the predator and big game hunters who dislike the competition. They were hunted to near extinction and virtually wiped out from indigenous habitat such as Yellowstone National Park, where they were successfully reintroduced in a wildly controversial program in 1995 that started with 14 wolves captured from Canada.
With the wolf population now recovering, the U.S. Congress voted to permanently delist the wolves earlier this year in many western states, including a small section in northern Utah that includes Cache, Rich and portion of Box Elder, Weber, Morgan and Davis counties.
Utah policymakers have responded in force, passing a law last year that directs the Division of Wildlife Resources to prevent any packs of wolves from establishing in that northern Utah zone where they are not protected.
Robin Thomas, the division's legislative liaison, said Christensen's bill is a long way off from establishing any sort of wolf hunt.
"We have a really good track record of managing large predators. We want our laws set up so we can do the same thing with wolves."
Any wolf hunt would have to be established via a rule from the vote of the Utah Wildlife Board, she added.
"Wolves are a complex and emotionally charged animal," she said. "They get people excited."