Sportsman warns lawmakers of threats wolves pose to Utah game herds

This June 3, 2020, image released by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows a wolf on a state game camera in Moffat County, Colo. The founder of Utah’s powerful Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife lobbying organization warned a committee of Utah lawmakers on Wednesday that wolves are perched on Utah’s doorstep and should they make an entrance the fallout would be devastating.

This June 3, 2020, image released by Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows a wolf on a state game camera in Moffat County, Colo. The founder of Utah’s powerful Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife lobbying organization warned a committee of Utah lawmakers on Wednesday that wolves are perched on Utah’s doorstep and should they make an entrance the fallout would be devastating. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife via AP)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The founder of the powerful Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife lobbying organization warned a committee of lawmakers on Wednesday that wolves are perched on Utah's doorstep, and should they make an entrance, the fallout would be devastating.

"I think awareness should be No. 1 for the state," warned Don Peay in a Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment interim committee hearing. "This is a huge issue."

Peay said a voter-approved referendum in Colorado means a free-for-all for wolves on the Western slope of that state, enabling their reintroduction and posing threats to big game herds in Utah as well as livestock.

"And that is a one-day walk from Utah."

Although Peay said the wolves won't officially be introduced in Colorado until 2023, state wildlife officials there are already investigating a case of 18 calves found dead with injuries they say may be consistent with wolf depredation.

A report by 9News in Colorado said the dead calves were found earlier this month in Rio Blanco County near Meeker.

Peay said big game populations are doing well in Utah, compared to other states where wolves have received protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act.

"It's completely eliminated hunting in parts of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming. And so it's a huge economic impact," Peay said, noting that big game hunting in Utah is a $1 billion industry.

"Our populations (of big game) are stable or increasing," he said.

Peay, who was Donald Trump's Utah campaign manager when he was elected in 2016, and an avowed supporter throughout the Trump presidency, said the former president removed wolves from endangered species protections in the lower 48 states only to have that decision overturned by a federal judge.

"Just recently, a federal judge in California said 'No, I know more than all the biologists and all the people in all the states,' so he put wolves back on the endangered species list," in all but a few states, including a portion of Utah.

"Over five to 10 years if wolves come into Utah it will destroy everything we've built."

Some of Peay's statements led Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, to question if natural ecosystems should be allowed to play out, and that perhaps wolves should not be cast into such an overwhelmingly negative light.

"There is an element in this (presentation) that says all wolves are bad, right? But the ecology piece of me says that no, wolves have a role, grizzlies have a role. And what we want to make sure so we can manage them reasonably, rationally and responsibly," Hawkes said, noting he didn't sense a lot of "nuance" in the presentation.

Peay said it should be up to wildlife conservationists, the state of Utah and hunting interests to manage big game populations, not wolves.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, also questioned Peay about information she had about elk numbers increasing in the presence of wolves.

"I would say the Great Salt Lake is flooding and we need to pump water out of it. That's absolutely false," he responded.

It is well known that the Great Salt Lake is at historic record lows.

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OutdoorsUtah
Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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