For Utah, the war on wolf conservation seems never-ending

Utah is suing again against federal protections for wolves not currently known to reside in the Beehive State.

On Monday, state officials filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to reverse a decision by the Donald Trump administration to remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act.

The state has long claimed that the wolf’s return to its home range in Utah would endanger the state’s livestock industry. Claiming that wolves cause “irreparable damage” to wildlife, Utah prosecutors asked US District Judge Jeffrey White to help Utah defend the Interior Department’s decision last year that the gray wolf was no longer an endangered species is. That controversial decision turned the management of the predator over to the states.

The WildEarth Guardians and other groups filed suit in court in White’s Oakland, California, arguing that the wolf’s recovery is limited to a few areas and state administration, particularly in Utah, poses a threat to the species’ survival. The suit underscores Utah’s wolf management philosophy, arguing that its ultimate goal is not management, but prevention of a significant wolf presence.

Wolves once roamed most of North America, but were all but wiped out from the lower 48 states by the early 20th century. The western and upper midwest states offer the most suitable habitat for wolf recovery.

Also this week, a coalition of 70 environmental and wildlife groups, including those who filed the lawsuit, filed a petition with Home Secretary Deb Haaland, formally asking the agency to reinstate federal protections for the gray wolf across the west.

“Wolves are absent from suitable habitats or are critically endangered in many western states, and the handful of states surrounding Yellowstone National Park are now driving the larger populations toward extinction — endangered species list — by increasing wolf killing and the Eliminate hunting and trapping regulations in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming,” said wildlife biologist Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project.

Over the past decade, Utah lawmakers have funneled hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to outside lobbyists to pressure Congress and federal agencies to take protections from the wolf. That investment finally bore fruit in the final months of the Trump administration, when the US Fish and Wild Service issued a rule delisting the wolf.

Meanwhile, Colorado voters last November passed an initiative directing that state’s wildlife agency to bring wolves back to the western, less urban part of the state. A pack has already been established in Northwest Colorado without human assistance.

Since 2002, there have only been 15 to 20 confirmed sightings of wolves in Utah, according to Utah court records. Still no breeding pair has been documented in almost a century. However, the Utah record states that Colorado’s plan to establish self-sustaining wolf packs will inevitably lead to an incursion of wolves into eastern Utah counties.

“History has demonstrated the need for active management of gray wolf populations, as well as the negative impact on large game populations when such management is lacking,” the filing reads. “Leaving Utah without having funds to address the continued spread of gray wolves in Utah will create conflicts between livestock and rangers due to shared habitat.”

The National Rifle Association has already been allowed to intervene in the lawsuit based on its argument that overturning the delisting decision would prevent its members from hunting wolves. Other groups looking to intervene on the anti-wolf side include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the American Farm Bureau, and the American Sheep Industry Association.

Utah claims wolves’ appetite for big game poses a financial threat to the state. Officials predict deer and elk numbers would fall, and claim that allowing “unmanaged” wolf packs to roam Utah would reduce revenue related to hunting licenses and equipment.

“These leadership and equipment services provide employment and income for families in Utah,” the Utah filing said. “The continued listing of gray wolves as an endangered species as their population expands into Utah will only result in direct hardship for Utah citizens involved in the outdoor industry.”

Many wildlife biologists dismiss claims that rising wolf numbers have doomed big game herds in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, states that now allow aggressive hunting of wolves.

The state also claimed that wolves would cost farmers dearly for forcing ungulates into grazing areas.

“As a result, livestock using these lands have limited access to grazing land, which in turn creates higher costs for farm producers who must provide supplemental feed to livestock that have traditionally relied on free range resources to meet their nutritional needs,” the statement said Submission claimed. For Utah, the war on wolf conservation seems never-ending

Justin Scacco

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