The U.S. Department of Interior has awarded more than $60 million to wildlife programs in 50 states and six territories for the conservation and recovery of imperiled species. Utah's share of the grant money is just over $850,000.

The programs supported by the federal funding are aimed at protecting and encouraging animal species that have not yet been classified as "endangered," but are declining in numbers.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said in a released statement that the funding is critical to conservation efforts across the country.

"Taken together, the state and territorial wildlife action plans represent the most comprehensive national assessment of fish and wildlife resources and the steps needed to ensure healthy populations," Kempthorne said.

The grant program was enacted in 2001 and to date has provided $441 million in funding. States must find matching dollars to utilize the funds — a process that has been supported by the Utah Legislature in the form of an annual block grant that ensures the state's Division of Wildlife Resources can make full use of the federal dollars. The agency's assistant director, Alan Clark, said the funding has figured significantly in Utah's efforts to protect threatened species.

"Utah has had great success in demonstrating effective use of this funding," Clark said. "We judge that success, or lack of, by how many new species have been listed as endangered. Utah has more coming off than going on the list."

Clark said the federal program has solidified the state's ability to continue ongoing projects and, most significantly, enabled his agency to retain top researchers to run those projects.

"These kinds of programs are only as good as the people you have," Clark said. "We finally have the funding so that we can guarantee the retention of good scientists."

Some of the species that are the target of state conservation efforts include Brewer's sparrows, ferruginous hawks, sage thrashers, pygmy rabbits, spotted frogs and a minnow-sized fish called the least chub.


E-mail: araymond@desnews.com