More than a dozen Utah conservation groups are asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to keep protections in place that would allow "natural re-introduction" of wolves into the Beehive State.
In a letter to Salazar, the conservationists say they are concerned with a planned de-listing of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species list across the lower 48 states. In addition, they fear for the health of the Mexican gray wolf population that straddles the line between northern Arizona and New Mexico.
That sentiment is not shared by a majority of Utah lawmakers. In 2010, legislation passed that directed the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to "manage wolves to prevent the establishment of a viable pack in all areas of the state where the wolf is not listed as threatened or endangered ..."
In a related matter that is independent of the gray wolf, portions of southern Utah were being considered for an extension of the Mexican gray wolf recovery area. But according to the conservationists' letter to Salazar, behind-the-scenes maneuvering may have been successful in removing southern Utah from consideration.
One of the letter's authors, Kirk Robinson, Western Wildlife Conservancy, said in a Thursday interview that there are fewer than 100 surviving Mexican gray wolves and without a larger recovery area they likely will become extinct.
In March 2011, the northeast corner of Utah east of Interstate 15 and north of I-80 and I-84 was de-listed as a recovery area for gray wolves. Elsewhere in Utah, most notably the Uinta Mountains and eastern Utah's Book Cliffs region, they remain protected.
Idaho and Montana were also de-listed in 2011 and the gray wolf populations there put under the management of state wildlife officials. Wyoming was de-listed last month.
The complete de-listing of gray wolves across the lower 48 states had been scheduled for this Sunday but has been postponed for several months, Robinson said.
"We want Salazar to know there is a growing constituency of Utahns who know what's going on," Robinson said. "We want to bring a groundswell of opposition [to the de-listing of the lower 48 states]."
Conservationists would like to see gray wolves migrate into Utah from the north and Mexican gray wolves from the south in what Robinson called "natural re-introduction."
That's anathema to agriculture interests, said Randy Parker, CEO of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. He said wolf packs in Wyoming have decimated sheep and elk herds.
Parker was among a multi-faceted group that developed the Utah Wolf Management Plan in the 1990s that was later adopted by the state Legislature.
"We want the state of Utah to hold the line on the Wolf Plan and the state law," he said.