Utah Should Prepare for Wolves' Return, Says Biologist

Robert H. Schmidt
The Salt Lake Tribune
May 6, 2001

In this commentary, a wildlife biologist says the return of wild wolves to the state of Utah is inevitable. He urges planning to prepare the people, the economy and the ecosystems of Utah for the arrival.

Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.
—Aldo Leopold, 1949

When gray wolves were transported to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, the news was carried coast to coast, and around the world. Wolves were returning to Yellowstone! Pictures of Canadian wolves dashing out of their transport cages splashed on the front pages of thousands of newspapers.

Talk show hosts from Florida to Washington discussed the event and its biological and social ramifications. Network television crews jockeyed for position to be the first to report that the wolves were back and to interview unhappy and angry ranchers. Supporters of wolves celebrated that Yellowstone National Park, and the greater Yellowstone eco-region, would be better places with wolves, bringing greater pleasure to those visiting the park and to those who simply wanted Yellowstone to be "complete."

Conversations about these wolves occurred throughout Utah as well. Some cheered, while others grumbled.

Those cheering delighted in knowing that, after an absence of more than half a century, elk and moose would hear the howl and feel the fang of the wolf, and that the eternal, co-evolutionary dance between predator and prey would resume.

Grumblers thought of yet another government intrusion into the lives of honest, tax-paying citizens. They worried for the ranchers of Montana and Wyoming, sympathizing with those who might lose private property—especially cattle and sheep—and be hassled by additional government restrictions, bureaucracy or red tape. They thought about elk not born, and deer not hunted. The howl of the wolf brought not the expression of wonder, but a scowl of disappointment or anger.

In both groups, it brought forth a cascade of whispers: "Could there ever be wolves in Utah?" Those whispers are getting louder as the wolf in Yellowstone continues to grow, expand and disperse.

I hear discussions on the establishment of a Southern Rockies gray wolf population centered in Colorado and spilling over into Utah via a Grand Junction corridor. Some people are discussing whether there is a role for Mexican wolves in southern Utah. And the Yellowstone wolves keep coming closer.

"Wolf-Proof Curtain"

The conversations are not all pro-wolf. A large number of people, albeit a minority, think management programs should be developed to keep wolves out—in effect, hanging a wolf-proof curtain of aggressive, anti-wolf policies around the entire state.

Continued on Next Page >>


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