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Editorial: If Utah can help Mexican wolves recover, we should let them in

The Salt Lake Tribune, December 5, 2015 – Letter to the Editor Opportunity

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What is Utah's responsibility to save the Mexican gray wolf?

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert joined governors from the other Four Corners states in pushing back against the federal government's latest effort to revise a recovery plan for the wolves, whose numbers in the wild are down to about 100 animals.

In their letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last month, one key argument of the governors is that the subspecies of wolf never roamed as far north as Utah and Colorado before they were eradicated, so the states are not appropriate for taking them now. The Utah Wildlife Board has reiterated that in its own letter.

The governors are arguing that the scientific deck is stacked against them in the recovery plan because it includes scientists who dispute the argument that Mexican wolves never made it here. It's likely wolves were in Utah at some point, but it's hard to know which sub-species.

Further, when the intent is to save a species, the federal Endangered Species Act does not require that it can only be saved on land where it had historically roamed. If the science shows that land is suitable for a recovery effort, the feds can consider it for recovery.

The effort is severely complicated by the fact that, historically, half or more of the Mexican gray wolves were in Mexico. As a result, the governors are pushing for a recovery effort that is more centered on Mexico. The effort should be international, but it's also a reality that Mexico does not have the laws or the political will to take wolf recovery as far as the United States can.

What's more, with or without wolves, the habitat is not standing still, and that is due to climate change. The temperature-associated changes that have begun and will continue may indeed make the U.S. more of the wolves' future range, even if it wasn't their past range. In other words, the historical argument may be just that, history.

The governors are not arguing against a recovery plan, but they do want a greater role in shaping that plan, and that is reasonable and appropriate. But if they truly want to bring back the wolves (and they should), they may have to accept that they may move north. (There is no plan to introduce them in Utah.)

So what's to fear about Mexican wolves? The Utah Wildlife Board's letter says its a "direct threat to successful wildlife management in Utah." Strong words, but the reasoning behind it is that the wolves will reduce big-game populations, which in turn will reduce the state's income from hunting licenses, which provides a large chunk of the funding for wildlife management.

In other words, the board argues that the state's level of wildlife protection should be dictated by how many animals hunters can kill. That is absurd for reasons beyond the Mexican wolf, particularly when the number of Utahns who hunt is declining.

What is Utah's responsibility to the Mexican gray wolf? The answer should reflect the will of all Utahns, not just the ones with guns.

This Editorial was published in the Salt Lake Tribune.

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Please write a letter to the editor to The Salt Lake Tribune today, urging US Fish and Wildlife to prevent the states from standing in the way of wolf recovery.

The letters to the editor page is one of the most widely read, influential parts of the newspaper. One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers. Tips and talking points for writing your letter are below, butplease write in your own words, from your own experience. Your letter will be most effective if you focus on a few of the talking points below rather than trying to include them all.

Talking Points
  • The state is using out of date information – newer studies support a more northward range for Mexican gray wolves historically.  Genetic research has found evidence of Mexican wolf genetic markers in Utah and Colorado, and as far north as Nebraska.
  • The Endangered Species Act does not require recovery to occur within species’ historic range.
  • It’s hypocritical for the governors to argue that Mexican wolves should be excluded based on whether they are “native.”  The state game agencies have no problem moving game species and fish into places they never lived simply for the convenience of hunters and fishermen.
  • If Mexican gray wolves need habitat in Utah to survive, I am happy to have them here.
  • Recovery of Mexican gray wolves cannot occur wholly in Mexico.  There are no large blocks of public lands, there is not a great deal of suitable habitat and prey, and there may not be enough resources to do the job.
  • We need wolves, be they Mexican gray wolves or northern wolves, to help repair Utah’s wildlands.   Taking a lesson from Yellowstone and the important role of top predators in ecosystems, many of us would welcome lobos to Utah.
  • States have failed to manage wildlife as a public trust for current and future citizens.  State wildlife policies, which kill off predators to supposedly support game populations, are rooted in the 1800s. Fortunately, our national policy is to restore and preserve all forms of wildlife, including predators.  Until the states get serious about balancing conservation vs. consumption, they should recuse themselves from decisions about endangered species.
  • For over 10,000 years, grey wolves lived throughout Utah and Colorado and played an important role in shaping the landscape and maintaining balance in nature.  Under state management, most subspecies of wolves were hunted and trapped to extinction.  The highly endangered Mexican grey wolf is the most appropriate surviving subspecies for recovery in Utah and Colorado, and they cannot recover without help from all four states.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service should stop letting anti-wolf state officials obstruct wolf recovery.  The last effort to create a Mexican wolf recovery plan stalled precisely because the states were given opportunities to weigh in before the work of the scientific experts was released for public comment. The most recent recovery planning process, which began in 2011, ended amidst allegations of political interference by these same states with the science.
  • Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a scientific integrity complaint in 2012 saying that US Fish and Wildlife Service allowed politics to interfere with the new Mexican wolf recovery planning process by encouraging scientists to lower or forgo the numeric target for recovery, responding to state demands to exclude Utah, Colorado, and Northern Arizona from suitable habitat, and attempting to prevent the science subgroup from issuing final Mexican wolf recovery criteria.

Letter Writing Tips

Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing this excellent editorial and make sure to reference it in your letter.
  • Submit your letter as soon as possible. The chance of your letter being published declines after a day or two since the article was published.
  • Do not repeat any negative messages, such as “so and so said that wolves kill too many cows, but…”  Remember that those reading your letter will not be looking at the article it responds to, so this is an opportunity to get out positive messages about wolf recovery rather than to argue with the original article.
  • Keep your letter brief, no more than 200 words. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.
  • Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.” Don’t be afraid to be personal and creative.
  • Provide your name, address, phone number and address.  The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
  • Submit your letter in the text of your email, rather than as an attachment, here. letters@sltrib.com
Thank you for speaking out for lobos!

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