TOP SECRET ANIMAL ATTACK FILES
Special Report filed by AAF
from The Salt Lake Tribune
May Be Taken Off Endangered List
Thursday, October 12, 2000
BY BRENT ISRAELSEN THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Once upon a time, gray wolves roamed freely throughout North America, filling an important niche in an abundantly diverse chain of wildlife.
Today, that chain is broken, largely because of the demise of predators like wolves, whose numbers plummeted a century ago as a result of bounty hunters working to protect livestock.
The good news is that in recent years, the wolf has made a comeback.
The comeback is so good, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that the wolf no longer needs to be classified as an endangered species.
The agency is proposing to "downlist" the species from "endangered" to "threatened" or remove it from the endangered species list altogether in much of the United States.
A hearing on the proposal will be held today in Salt Lake City, from 1 to 3 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. at the downtown Hilton Hotel.
The irony of today's hearing, one of several being held around the West, is that there are no wolves in Utah, even though the state is part of the FWS-designated "Western population" of the gray wolf.
That fact is not lost on Utah wildlife advocates, who fear the downlisting will lead to eventual removal of the wolf from the endangered species list.
"If the wolf is delisted, they stand no chance of making it to Utah," says Kirk Robinson, director of the Salt Lake City-based Western Wildlife Conservancy.
Under their current federal status as endangered, wolves enjoy a high degree of protection from harm or harassment. A downlisting to "threatened" would allow ranchers more leeway in firing upon or hazing wolves that are near their livestock.
Ed Bangs, a wolf recovery coordinator for the FWS, said the plan to downlist the wolf is based on the agency's opinion that the wolf no longer faces extinction.
Today, there are 500 wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, said Bangs.
Contrary to fears from the cattle and sheep industries, Bangs said, wolves have had minimal impact on livestock losses. In the past few years, 200 wolves in central Idaho have killed about six cows and 20 sheep per year.
While having little negative impact on the livestock industry, wolves may be having a positive impact on ecosystems, particularly in Yellowstone National Park. Scientists are seeing recovery of important watershed plant species that could be attributed to the wolves' tendency to keep elk herds on the move, thus preventing overbrowsing.
For those reasons and more, environmentalists hope the wolf could be recovered in other areas of the West.
In the absence of a federal endangered protection, that hope hinges on decisions by the states to re-introduce the species on their own. The Utah Wildlife Board may someday consider reintroduction, but it probably would face stiff opposition from livestock groups.
"We oppose any introduction of wolves into the state," said Jennifer Dahl, spokeswoman for the Utah Farm Bureau.
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