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Op-ed: Utah Wildlife Board’s anti-wolf rhetoric is a century behind

The Salt Lake Tribune – December 19, 2015 - Please Write a Letter to the Editor

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Regarding "Utah officials: Mexican wolf is 'bullet' that could destroy West," Dec. 4:


Utah Wildlife Board Chair John Bair said the Mexican wolf (aka lobo) is being used as a silver bullet to destroy the culture of the West. Surely he was thinking of the old West, when bullets were used to get rid of perceived problems — the wolf, for example.

As a young forest assistant in the early 20th Century, the father of modern wildlife management, Aldo Leopold, saw a family of lobos in a ravine and opened fire on them. Upon arriving at the scene of carnage, he watched a fierce green fire dying in the eyes of a mother wolf: "I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes — something known only to her and to the mountain."

That experience changed Leopold's life. He began to understand nature – earth, water, plants and animals – as a complex, interdependent whole, which he referred to as the land organism. He realized that apex predators, such as the wolf and the cougar, play an important role regulating ecosystems to keep the land productive, healthy and beautiful — a role that humans cannot replicate.

Some years later, Leopold cautioned Arizona wildlife managers against exterminating all the wolves and cougars on the Kaibab Plateau in an attempt to inflate the mule deer herd. They did it anyway, and the herd grew unchecked, followed by mass erosion and thousands of deer starving to death.

Last fall, a young female gray wolf from the Yellowstone country was the first wolf since the great extermination to set foot on the Kaibab rim of the Grand Canyon and howl into the vast stillness. School kids named her Echo. A few weeks later, Echo was fatally shot in Utah by a coyote hunter. A second female wolf was found strangled in a neck snare in Rich County just last month. Yet another wolf, which may have been the one seen in the Uintas last year, was found dead of a coyote hunter's bullet in Colorado last spring.

These wolves did no harm. They were merely searching for mates in their ancestral home.

Leopold said he could not conceive of an ethical relation to land without "love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value … value in the philosophical sense."

Unlike Leopold's vision of wildlife management guided by an ethic of respect for the intrinsic value of the land organism, we are witnessing instead an emphasis on reducing predator numbers to boost populations of deer and elk. It's all about big bucks. Science sometimes gets prostituted or simply ignored in the process. Ethics isn't even discussed.

The problem is state legislators who control the purse strings to ensure that wildlife managers serve the demands of powerful rancher and hunter lobbies, and governors who appoint members of wildlife boards to disproportionately represent those interests.

Most of the current seven-member Utah Wildlife Board have long been associated with the anti-predator group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, which is dead set against wolves in Utah. The board recently sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, protesting in advance any plans to include parts of Utah in the recovery area for the highly endangered lobo (there are only 110 in the wild, all descended from just seven founders).

Contrary to the board's assertion, the Endangered Species Act and supplementary law clearly provide that recovery areas with the best remaining habitat, even outside a species' assumed historic range, can be established (16 USC 532(5)). Moreover, scientific studies support a lobo recovery area extending into Utah because that ecological niche is currently vacant and because there is evidence from wolf remains and DNA showing that lobos once occupied it.

Lastly, public opinion surveys have repeatedly shown that most Utahns, even in rural Utah, would be fine with wolves returning. We should not stand in their way.

Kirk Robinson, Ph.D., is executive director of Western Wildlife Conservancy. Allison Jones, MS, is executive director of Wild Utah Project.

This Op-Ed 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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Action: January 14th Press Conference/Rally for Wolves
in Salt Lake City

Tell officials: Utah Needs Wolves – Wolves Need Utah

Join wolf supporters at a press conference/rally to tell state officials and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to let Mexican gray wolves come home to Utah.  More information HERE.

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