Wolf Capture in Utah Ignites Controversy

Wolf Capture in Utah Ignites Controversy

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Environment Specialist John Hollenhorst reporting

The howling has begun. The controversy is just heating up following the first capture of a wolf in Utah in 70 years.

"Well, I think we should be thrilled. It's wonderful to have wolves in Utah," says Denise Boggs with the Utah Environmental Congress.

"The place is better off with none. I can't see any advantages of having wolves down here," says Dee Kippen, who owns a ranch in Morgan County.

A single gray wolf was accidentally caught in a coyote trap on Saturday, just 25 miles from the state capitol in Salt Lake City.

The wolf may already be gone, but it's certainly not forgotten.

Federal officials have returned the wolf to Wyoming and released him to his original habitat in the Yellowstone area. But another one is almost surely still on the prowl in Utah, and it's a good guess that more are coming.

Dee Kippen leases his land to sheep ranchers. He suspected something was up a few weeks ago when several lambs were found dead.

"That wasn't a normal kill. They were kind of torn up and pulled around and that ... unlike a coyote," he says.

But Kippen was dumbfounded to wind up posing with a historic predator. He had hired a coyote trapper who accidentally snared a wolf, caught by the toes in a leghold trap.

It's Utah's first confirmed wolf since ranchers wiped them out three quarters of a century ago. Good riddance then, Kippen says, and he's not happy about the wolf's comeback.

"I think it's a bad deal. You already have the coyotes and lions killing a lot of your livestock. And if (those) wolves get in here, there's no way to control them," he says.

But for some, it's the news they've been waiting years to hear.

"They're the spirit of the West, the American West," Boggs says.

A second set of smaller tracks was found near the trap.

"It potentially could be a female or another younger male. They typically travel in twos and threes," says Miles Moretti with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

People are keeping a sharp eye out around here. The second wolf is presumed to be still in the area, and a lot of people believe the one that was trapped and taken back to Wyoming will be back in Utah before very long.

A re-establishment of Utah's wolf population already has hunters sweating bullets.

"If you have uncontrolled wolf populations, they will drive game populations down significantly, to the point where hunters will have nothing left to hunt," says Don Peay with the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

"There is simply no evidence to support that," Boggs says.

Supporters say wolves have a valued role to play in nature and should be left alone.

"Wolves tend to prey on the old and the sick and the weak, and they will cull those herds," Boggs says.

Kippen doesn't agree.

"That isn't true. They pick out the best of your flock to kill," he says.

Tough policy choices lie ahead. Should wolves be taken off the endangered species list? Should they be killed on sight or allowed to run free? Or should they be limited to certain numbers and locations?

It's biological science turned highly political.

Expect to see it all come up next month in the legislature.

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