SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Even though Utah has no established wolf packs, a state lawmaker intends to introduce a bill next year that would reclassify wolves as a game animal and help pave the way for a sanctioned wolf hunt.
Wildlife managers told the Deseret News that the legislation sponsored by Sen. Alan Christensen, R-North Ogden, would help prepare Utah for the day wolves appear in greater numbers here.
Supporters view it as a "housekeeping" measure at this time because wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act in the state except for a small portion of northern Utah.
But with the wolf population now recovering, Congress voted earlier this year to permanently delist wolves in several western states, including the section of northern Utah that includes Cache, Rich and portions of Box Elder, Weber, Morgan and Davis counties.
While Utah attracts transient wolves from other states from time to time, wildlife managers are unaware of any resident wolves or wolf breeding here, said Kevin Bunnell, wildlife section chief with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
"This is a housekeeping bill in anticipation that at some point, wolves will be delisted and we will have some management authority in the state," he said. "If and when we have that, and we can offer some harvest of wolves, we would be ready for that."
Robin Thomas, legislative liaison of the Division of Wildlife Resources, said the bill is a long way off from establishing any sort of wolf hunt, and such a hunt would have to be established by the Utah Wildlife Board.
"We have a really good track record of managing large predators," Thomas told the Deseret News. "We want our laws set up so we can do the same thing with wolves."
After devoting four decades and tens of millions of dollars to saving the gray wolf, the federal government wants to get out of the wolf-protection business, leaving it to individual states — and the wolves themselves — to determine the future of the legendary predator.
The Obama administration Wednesday declared more than 4,000 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have recovered from widespread extermination and will be removed from the endangered species list.
Coupled with the earlier move that lifted protections in five western states, the decision puts the gray wolf at a historical crossroads — one that could test both its reputation for resilience and the tolerance of ranchers and hunters who bemoan its attacks on livestock and big game.
Since being declared endangered in 1974, the American wolf population has grown fivefold — to about 6,200 animals wandering parts of 10 states outside Alaska.
Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.