Animal Writes
From 9 March 2003 Issue

Marauding Wolves Killed
By Brent Israelsen
The Sale Lake Tribune 

Federal predator-control agents from Salt Lake City gunned down two wolves that preyed on sheep near the Utah-Wyoming line. From a two-seat airplane, Mike Bodenchuk, director of the Utah office of Wildlife Services, shot the wolves just before dusk Tuesday about one mile into Wyoming and about 17 miles southeast of Bear Lake. The carcasses were taken Wednesday to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) field office for examination.

Mike Jimenez, FWS wolf coordinator for Wyoming, said the wolves, both males, were probably yearlings from a pack in Grand Teton National Park. Utah conservationists uniformly condemned the decision to destroy the wolves, a federally protected endangered species that, thanks to a federal recovery effort, have made a remarkable comeback in the Northern Rocky Mountains. "It's not putting a good face on wolf recovery if every time there's a hint of trouble, the wolves are lethally controlled. Clearly, it's a one-strike-you're-out policy," said Allison Jones, coordinator of the Utah Wolf Forum, a coalition of environmental groups hoping to see the once-extirpated critter recolonize the Beehive State.

Under a special exception to the Endangered Species Act and to help protect the livestock industry, the FWS has authority to destroy wolves that cause trouble. Since 1987, more than 150 depredating wolves have been killed by the government. On Tuesday morning, shortly after the sheep were attacked, Ed Bangs, the FWS's Northern Rockies wolf recovery leader, authorized Wildlife Services to find and destroy the offenders, a job Bodenchuk's office dispatched swiftly. Despite frequent snow squalls, Bodenchuk and his pilot were able to fly to the area by about 4:45 p.m. while a team on snowmobiles tracked the animals on the ground. By about 5:30 p.m., the airborne team spotted the wolves and made about five passes, each time with Bodenchuk firing a half-dozen shots from a 12-gauge shotgun. A veteran hunter, Bodenchuk said it was exciting to see the wolves but "disturbing" to have to kill them. "They really are a magnificent animal," he said.

The wolves were probably staking out new territory in southwestern Wyoming and northern Utah, parts of which are scarce in big game but rich in livestock. On Tuesday morning, the wolves intruded into a sheep pen on private lands about 10 miles east of Bear Lake. Upon hearing the commotion, the rancher scared the wolves off but not before they had inflicted mortal wounds on two sheep, worth about $200 each. "The fact we had a depredation in the morning and it's resolved in the evening should give people confidence that we can deal with these things," said Bangs. Dick Carter, coordinator of the High Uintas Preservation Council, said his confidence has been shaken. The summary execution of these two wolves, which Carter believes were in Ogden Valley near Huntsville last week, does not bode well for the animal's future in Utah. "If we look at every mistake a wolf makes as a fatal one, that is not good wildlife management."

John Carter, Utah director of the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Council, was equally angered. "My problem is that there is no room for wolves on public lands due to livestock and there's no room for them on private lands because of livestock. What are they supposed to do, levitate?"

The director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which will manage the wolf once it is removed from the federal endangered list, was circumspect about Tuesday's killing of the wolves. "Depredating wolves probably need to have lethal action taken against them," Kevin Conway said. "I don't know if there are any other options." Jimenez said wolves that kill sheep tend to be repeat offenders. Destroying such offenders, he explained, is important to maintaining the ranching public's tolerance of wolves.

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