The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made an announcement last Friday that could lead to the state of Utah managing gray wolves that make their way into the state.
Whether or not Utah has any wolves, however, is unclear.
The USFWS announced that a rule to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species list has been placed in the Federal Register for comment. Comments will be accepted for 90 days.
Under the plan, federal protection for gray wolves throughout the lower 48 states would end in 2014, after the USFWS reviews comments from the public and other interested parties.
John Shivik, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said gray wolves in North America are doing really well. He supports the USFWS’s recommendation to strip the wolves of their endangered status.
“Now that the species is recovered,” Shivik said, “the focus needs to shift. If wolves make their way to Utah, balancing the number of wolves with the amount of prey that’s available to them needs to be the focus.”
Protecting livestock is also a concern, he said.
“If wolves start to establish themselves in Utah, they’ll likely come into conflict with livestock,” he said. “We need to be prepared for that, too.”
If gray wolves are removed from the Endangered Species list, any wolves that make their way to Utah would be managed under the state’s wolf management plan. Under the state plan, wolves that attack livestock or pets, or that have a significant detrimental impact on big game populations, could be relocated or killed.
Rebounding populations that have exceeded goals have already led to a delisting of wolves over the past two years in two major wolf habitat areas — the western Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountain regions, as well as some surrounding areas. Part of Northern Utah — the area east of I-15 and north of I-84 — is already part of the delisted area for the Rockies.
Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are among several states that have established wolf hunting seasons, and in Wyoming, people are allowed to shoot wolves on sight.
Shivik said gray wolves have wandered into Utah from time to time. Currently, however, biologists aren’t aware of any wolves in the state.
“When wolves do make their way here,” he said, “we need to have the ability to manage them.”
A possible sighting of several wolves in the mountains east of Spanish Fork occurred in the spring of 2012, but it still hasn’t been confirmed, and there haven’t been any more recent reports.
The gray wolf historically occupied all of the Intermountain West; however, wolf populations were essentially wiped out in the region by the 1930s. Wolves from Canada occasionally dispersed south into Montana and Idaho but failed to survive long enough to reproduce.
Subsequently, wolves received legal protection with the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and began to successfully recolonize northwest Montana. By 1995, there were six wolf packs in northwestern Montana. In 1995 and 1996, 66 wolves from southwestern Canada were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.