On Utah’s National Public Radio affiliate, KCPW, on Tuesday, October 21, host Roger Mc Donough interviewed Kirk Robinson, Executive Director of Western Wildlife Conservancy on the topic of wolves – and specifically on the question of what is the future of wolves in Utah.
A few weeks ago, a wolf was spotted in Utah, in the Uinta Mountains.
Asked if he found this surprising, Kirk Robinson replied that no, he did not; there would likely be one to a few wolves in Utah from time to time.
He went on to make a number of other very intriguing points about wolves:
In about one tenth of the state of Utah, wolves are no longer federally protected, this is the part of the state north of I-80 and I-84 – through a rather complicated maneuver, they are now delisted in this area. However, in all the rest of Utah they are still federally protected, with every wolf being fully covered by the Endangered Species Act.
Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources has paid two installments of $100,000 each to a sportsmen’s organization to lobby for delisting wolves from the Endangered Species Act – meaning that they would no longer receive any federal protection whatsoever. There were two subsequent allocations (in 2012 and 2013) that were $300,000 each and that were paid out of the state’s general fund – taxpayer money.
Subsequently, state legislators have spent nearly $2 million dollars of taxpayers’ money to lobby against saving the Sage Grouse by not listing the Sage Grouse as a protected, endangered species.
In both these cases, these large sums of money spent on lobbying run counter to the interests of the majority of Utahns.
Studies show that most Utahns, in both the north and the south of the state “think wolves would be good.”
Political leaders and the Department of Natural Resources (DWR) cater to special interests, both big game and trophy hunters and also the cattle and sheep industries, though these special interests represent only a small percentage of Uthans.
These special interests are opposed to wolves in the state of Utah because, as predators, they kill deer and elk, and hunters want to save the deer and elk so they can be hunted.
Kirk Robinson acknowledged that yes, wolves do eat primarily deer and elk. “Wolves are an integral part of a healthy eco-system.” Wolves, for the most part, prey on weaker, older, non-reproductive animals, so this will not affect the deer or elk population. He explained how this works:
“Wolves, elk, and deer evolved together for tens and hundreds of thousands of years. They got on just fine before humans came along.” Wolves are needed to prevent game herds from growing too large. Wolves and other top predators are needed to regulate the size of herds. Without top predators, prey populations tend to explode. Too many deer and elk grazing will cause soil erosion, and they will over-graze, running out of food, then their population will drop precipitously to maybe one-tenth of the abnormally large size resulting from a lack of top predators.
The presence of wolves leads to a healthier watershed. With the wolves there, elk and deer are kept on the move, giving a chance for young saplings and many other plants to spring up around lakes and streams; this is good for beaver, good for fish, and good for songbirds. Wolves are essential to a healthy environment.
Some hunting groups have been helpful to the conservation movement. However, many different groups are now doing conservation work, not only hunters.
Are populations of wolves on the rise in the West? The wolf population has spread in recent years after they were re-introduced, and they have been protected by the Endangered Species Act. Utah is important for wolf recovery because wild lands in Utah serve as a bridge to connect lands to the north and south; this provides necessary connectivity to suitable wolf habitat.
There will never be too many wolves because wolf populations are naturally regulated by the numbers of prey available. And wolf packs in nature keep a certain distance from each other.
The Western Wildlife Conservancy, of which Kirk Robinson is the Executive Director, is a partner in the Wildlands Network, a project to connect a chain of wild lands running north from Mexico, through the U.S. and into Canada, all the way to the Bering Strait.
Concerning why it is that wolves elicit so much passion one way or the other, he commented that after western settlers had wiped out the buffalo, wolves did begin to feed on ranchers’ sheep and cattle herds, so since that time, there has been a predisposition to see the wolf as the enemy, though this is not in fact, a true perception of wolves.
To listen to Kirk Robinson’s interview on KCPW, click here.
Link to petition to sign – vision for wolf recovery….
To sign a petition, drawn up by the Endangered Species Coalition, asking the USFWS not to delist wolves, but to continue to provide protection for them until they are fully recovered, click here.
Top photo: © Kerstiny | Dreamstime.com / A wolf
Second photo: Jeff McGrath from USA / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.” / Uinta Mountains
Third photo: Philthy54 at en.wikipedia / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.” / Gilbert Peak, the Unitas