SPANISH FORK — Numerous sightings of what might be a pack of wild wolves have drawn the attention of wildlife experts to Diamond Fork Canyon in the mountains east of here.
In yet another attempt to attract the animals for confirmation and tracking purposes, biologists are sending out calls and listening for the wolves to talk back.
"(It's) just sort of saying, 'I'm here. This is my territory. Is anybody else out there?'" said Kim Hersey, a biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Hersey was using an electronic device to send out high-pitched wolf "calls" last week and said she did receive a response that was "consistent with a wolf howl."
If it was a returning wolf call, and experts can get close enough to do some testing, it would be the first confirmed wolf pack in Utah since they were exterminated nearly a century ago.
Hersey said she saw an animal on the road a few weeks ago.
"It ran off into the bushes. And after a little while, howling at it, I was able to get a howl response from that animal," she said. "It was not a coyote. I, definitely, when I saw it, I thought wolf."
In the fall of 2010, a photo taken by a hunter was documented as the first solid evidence of the possibility of wolves in Utah, according to DWR officials. The animal in the photos appeared to be a wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid.
A year later, a calf-kill in the area looked to be the work of a wolf, and there were several other sightings reported by the public, including in nearby Hobble Creek Canyon.
In March, biologists flew in helicopters over the area, spotting what appeared to be four of the animals together, but they couldn't trace them very far. More recently, they tried putting out fresh meat, with motion-detector cameras standing by, but nothing has turned up.
"There's definitely a larger carnivore out there, a dog of some sort," Hersey said, adding that if a person sees a wolf, they'd likely know it by the large size of the animal. It would also leave prints much larger than a human hand and have a long stride. Characteristically, the elusive animal would most likely avoid a busy highway or road-kill.
Anyone who sees the animals is encouraged to call the DWR's Springville office at 801-491-5678.
Wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act in the state, except for a small section in northern Utah and because of the protections in place, management of wolves falls under the purview of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
If the animals are caught and found to be a hybrid, or a mix with a dog breed, Hersey said the animals will be put down.