SALT LAKE CITY — A divided Senate committee approved a tamer version of a controversial wolf management bill Tuesday.
For more than an hour and a half, concerned Utahns, advocacy groups and government officials lined up to voice their opinions on SB36.
The original legislation proposed by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, called for state wildlife officials to "capture or kill" any wolf found in Utah, potentially in conflict with the federal Endangered Species Act.
In the end, objections about that legal conflict led Christensen to substitute a bill that calls for such management techniques in areas where wolves have been removed from the endangered species list, rather than statewide.
The revised proposal would require state wildlife officials to ask the federal government to capture or kill wolves found in protected areas.
Christensen said Utah Division of Wildlife Resources director Jim Karpowitz approached him with fears that the bill would require the division to break a law, either federal or state.
"This clearly sets up conflict between state and federal law, and the director could be held criminally liable for not upholding both laws," Karpowitz told the committee.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, recommended that the bills be renumbered and considered as separate legislation, prompting Christensen to abandon the substitution and push for the committee to adopt the original bill.
In opposing the bill, Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, suggested that wolves could be managed under existing programs without asking state employees to break the law. Morgan asked the committee to wait to vote on the proposal.
"We need more information on this issue before we pass anything," she said.
Dayton called for senators to support the substituted bill despite opposition from the committee's two Democrats, and the revised proposal passed with a party-line vote of 4-2.
Dayton said she hoped Christensen would consider resubmitting the original proposal, because it would be "beneficial to our negotiations" with the federal government.
"This is very much a 10th Amendment issue, which is such a growing concern around the country," she said.
Christensen, however, said he does not plan to propose the bill again this legislative session.
"In a year we may need to pursue a stronger message if the feds don't move on this wolf management plan," he said.
Currently there are no known wolf packs in Utah, and only a few individual wolves have been tracked, Karpowitz said.