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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Four wolves or wolf-dog hybrids spotted by a coyote-control crew near the north-central Utah town of Springville last week were not located during an air search, but tracks were found, state wildlife officials said.
A crew under contract with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources followed five sets of tracks during "an exhaustive search" on Friday, officials said, but was unable to locate the animals because of sporadic snow conditions on the ground.
DWR spokesman Mark Hadley said while crew members followed the tracks from a helicopter, they spotted the carcasses of a moose, deer and other big game animal they believe the canines had been feeding on.
State wildlife biologists now will try to find scat left by the canines near the carcasses, Provo's Daily Herald and The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
"The scat may contain DNA that will tell us whether the animals are wolves or wolf-dog hybrids," said John Shivik, mammals coordinator for DWR.
Biologists also plan to play recorded wolf howls the next few nights in the rugged, remote area east of Springville where the animals were spotted.
"If the animals howl back we'll be able to better pinpoint their location," Shivik said. "Then after the sun comes up, the capture crew can fly to that location to see if they can find them."
If they are wolves, they would represent the first confirmed group activity among wolves in Utah, likely stemming from wolf populations in Idaho or Wyoming.
While Utah attracts transient wolves from other states from time to time, wildlife managers are unaware of any resident wolves breeding here, said Kevin Bunnell, wildlife section chief for DWR.
If the animals are hybrids, they likely have been released into the wild by people who had them as pets and wanted to get rid of them, Bunnell said, adding such a hybrid occurring in nature is extremely unlikely.
Wildlife officials have said the animals would be protected if they are pure-bred wolves and killed if they are hybrids.
Wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act in the state except for a small portion of northern Utah.
With the wolf population recovering, Congress voted last year to permanently delist wolves in several western states, including the sliver of northern Utah that includes Cache, Rich and portions of Box Elder, Weber, Morgan and Davis counties. The canines in Utah were spotted outside that area.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)