Utah lawmaker puts wolves in his crosshairs
By Patty Henetz
Wolves are out of control, says Utah Sen. Allen Christensen, and the state's policy should be to kill them. Heck, he did. Went to Canada to bag one. It's at the taxidermist.
And besides, Christensen says, passing a bill to declare Utah's policy to destroy or remove all wolves is a simple case of states' rights.
The North Ogden Republican's goal is spelled out in SB36, which has caught the attention of legislative attorneys who attached a rare warning that the bill, if passed, probably would be found unconstitutional.
"Will it be a fight? Absolutely," Christensen concedes. "We have enough money to take it all the way to the [U.S.] Supreme Court."
The Utah chapters of the Cattlemen's Association and Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife support the bill. The Sportsmen will contribute to litigation costs, says Byron Bateman, president of the Utah chapter.
"We've been in the fight from the get-go," Bateman said, "and we'll be in it to the end."
SB36 is for people who enjoy wildlife, Christensen says, adding he knows wolves are wildlife, too. But they were exterminated in this region in the 19th century "for good reason," he says. "They were simply not compatible with humans anymore."
And now in Utah, Christensen says, "we supposedly don't have wolves. We would like to control our borders and say wolves are not endangered. We would like them not to immigrate into here."
But federal law trumps state law. In Utah, except for a small area included in the northern Rocky Mountain gray-wolf recovery area, wolves remain on the endangered list and under federal protection. So even if Christensen's bill were to take effect, says Ed Bangs, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf-recovery chief, it wouldn't matter.
Anyone who kills a wolf without proper cause in most of Utah still could land in big trouble -- to the tune of a $100,000 fine, a year in prison and loss of the gun that killed the beast and the truck the hunter rode in.
Bangs has heard all the arguments against wolves: They've destroyed elk and moose herds in the Yellowstone region, decimated livestock, hurt ranchers financially and they are man killers -- claims that tell some of the truth about wolves but not all of it.
"People who don't like them give them supernatural powers. It's that way all over the world," Bangs says. "In reality, they're no big deal."
Wolves have contributed to a decline of elk in and around Yellowstone, but moose loss is probably more due to climate disruption. "Moose can't handle heat at all," Bangs says. "They just lie around and don't store body fat."
White-tail deer populations are stable. Weather, loss of habitat, fire and other predators, including humans, have contributed to wildlife losses. In the West, Bangs says, wolves mostly cause problems with livestock depredation.
But they don't kill people. The first documented time a wolf killed a person the federal agency knows of occurred three years ago in Canada at a mining camp where wolves had become habituated to humans who fed them and left garbage around. The wolves had become aggressive. They killed a man who was trying to get close enough to photograph them, Bangs says.
This year, Christensen says, he went to Canada to kill a wolf. "I did kill one. It's currently at the taxidermist," he says. "Wolves are wildlife, too. But they proliferate so fast."
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