ST. GEORGE – State and local wildlife officials are opposing the possibility of Southern Utah being included in a recovery zone for the endangered Mexican gray wolf.
Federal wildlife officials are revising a recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf, after three failed attempts in the past two decades, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists facilitating Mexican wolf recovery are scheduled to meet this month outside Tucson, Ariz., with state representatives and other stakeholders.
In a letter to the Department of the Interior, the Utah Wildlife Board said research shows the species never lived in Utah and allowing or encouraging the wolves to live in Utah would harm the state’s big game population, the Associated Press reported.
The board’s letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell dovetails with a similar letter sent last month by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and governors in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, the Associated Press reported. In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife decided to list the Mexican wolf, a smaller subspecies of the gray wolf, as endangered. Federal wildlife officials estimate there are 110 Mexican wolves in the wild.
“There is no historical evidence that (Southern Utah) was ever historic habitat for the Mexican wolf, anywhere in the state of Utah actually,” Lynn Chamberlain said. Chamberlain is the conservation outreach manager for the southern region of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
“And we’re really not excited about having them here competing with everything else that’s already here,” he said. “If they were native, that would be a different story … we’re not interested in having another exotic species introduced into the state of Utah.”
However, conservation groups such as Lobos of the Southwest, contend Utah is using out of date information, and that research has found evidence of Mexican wolf genetic markers in Utah and Colorado. They also believe the recovery of Mexican gray wolves cannot happen entirely in Mexico, because there are no large blocks of public lands, no prey base and not enough resources.
Gray wolves have moved into Utah from reintroduced populations in Yellowstone National Park, Chamberlain said, and have been trapped and relocated for the most part.
The Division of Wildlife Resources has put together a wolf management plan for the gray wolf, Chamberlain said. There is some evidence the species did live in northern Utah and probably north-central Utah – “maybe down as far as I-70, possibly,” he said.
“We are not really excited about having them here either,” Chamberlain said, “due to competition with livestock, deer and elk.”
Historically, major predators in Southern Utah include mountain lions, bears, coyotes and bobcats, which take their toll on livestock and wildlife, Chamberlain said.
“And that’s OK, it’s kind of controllable,” Chamberlain said. “We’ve worked with that for a long long time and we know how to kind of manage … without eliminating anything. It concerns us a lot to add one more major predator to the mix that may or may not be as easy to control.”
The Mexican gray wolf was once numerous in parts of the Southwest but was almost entirely eliminated by the 1970s, information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states. Conservation efforts began in 1977, and in 1998 Mexican wolves were released back into the wild in an experimental population area.
In March 1998, 11 wolves were released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in eastern Arizona. Additional releases have occurred since then, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
This report includes contributions from Associated Press Reporter Brady McCombs.
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