ROOSEVELT — The yearlong process of meeting with the public to gather input on the most effective way to influence the recolonization of wolves in Utah got off to its official — and considering the controversial topic — pretty easy-going start this week in Roosevelt.
Tempers and tongues are expected to be held in check throughout the process because the series of 10 wolf meetings will be led by an out-of-state consulting company that guided the "discussion" strictly by having participants work in groups to list their concerns and advice all in writing.
"I emphasize that tonight we're not here to debate. If you've come tonight with a speech I'm sorry, this is not the right place," said Walt Gasson, a partner in the Cheyenne, Wyo.-based Dynamic Solutions. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources contracted with the solutions group to conduct the public scoping meetings preparatory to drafting the state's legislatively mandated Wolf Management Plan. Gasson assured those gathered that his involvement was strictly as a neutral third party.
"This is really the ground floor of planning for wolves in Utah. We're not planning for a reintroduction, we're planning for an inevitable arrival of wolves," said Craig McLaughlin, mammals coordinator for the DWR.
The answer to one of the few questions asked helped clear the common misconception that Utah would have to bow to the wishes of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in drafting its wolf management plan.
Utah does not have to have the approval of the federal government when it comes to devising its own plans for recolonization, said McLaughlin. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming had to deal with the reintroduction of wolves, which was mandated by the federal government. Utah is preparing to deal with the natural migration of wolves brought about by their reintroduction into neighboring states.
A group of about 40 farmers, ranchers, property owners and a few wolf enthusiasts easily came up with the top issues they expect to see the state's official 13-member Wolf Working Group assimilate into the final plans. The diverse group was appointed by the state to draft a wolf management plan for Utah. It includes members who represent wolf advocates, sportsmen, scientists, American Indians, local government, the livestock industry and conservationists. The process isn't expected to be completed until about May 2005, said Gasson.
"Issues" worksheets posted on walls at the meeting expressed concerns including:
Wildlife and livestock depredation.
The need to control the wolf population once it is established.
The ability for landowners to be able to have some control.
Counties must devise their own plans for dealing with the arrival of the fast-reproducing predator.
In the "advice column" participants wrote that they wanted to see management plans:
Implemented on "sound science."
Have more research conducted.
Let county plans take precedence over state plans.
Devise a tracking plan for wolves.
"I want to assure you that every one of those (issues and advice) written will be in the report," said Gasson, who estimated roughly 250 pieces of "issues and advice" were listed. To help pinpoint the highest priorities, everyone was given two green dots to place next to their two top issues .
Right now wolves are listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act in the northern portion of Utah but listed as "endangered" in the southern half of the state. As soon as they are taken off both federal lists they become Utah's responsibility alone to manage. The delisting is expected to occur next year, said McLaughlin.
Duchesne County Commission Chairman Lary Ross said the county hasn't drafted its wolf management plan but expects to begin the process soon.
The Ute Indian Tribe supports the state's efforts to draft a wolf management plan but wants the ability to manage wolves in a way that is consistent with land resources and their existing wildlife management philosophy, said Karen Corts, biologist for the tribe.
"The tribe has agreed to go along with the process but technically they have the right to manage as they want to, this has to be a plan the tribe buys into," she said.
Those wishing to have input can write to Wolf Comments, c/o Division of Wildlife Resources, 1594 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84114, or e-mail to email@example.com. The comments from all wolf meetings and additional information can be found at www.wildlife.utah.gov.