SALT LAKE CITY — Wolf advocates are howling mad over a pending appropriation at the Utah Legislature of $300,000 to keep wolves out of Utah.
Multiple groups, including the Western Wildlife Conservancy and Wild Utah Project, held a news conference Wednesday on the steps of the state Capitol to argue against the spending proposal, which they assert is unnecessary.
Kirk Robinson, director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, said spending the money is a waste of taxpayer dollars because there is no federal proposal on the board to reintroduce wolves to Utah and the appropriation is not a priority of the state Division of Wildlife Resources.
"Members of Utah conservation groups, as well as many other Utah citizens, are adamantly opposed to such a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer money," Robinson said, adding the groups believe it is "unseemly and improper" for lawmakers to fund such lobbying efforts.
"Furthermore, the federal government has not announced a plan to reintroduce wolves to Utah," he said. "And while wolves might naturally disperse into Utah eventually, there is already a wolf management plan, adopted by the Legislature in 2005, that will then be implemented."
But at a meeting last month of the Natural Resources, Environment and Agriculture Subcommittee, the money was prioritized by legislators in that group to keep the pressure on in Washington, D.C., to fight against wolves coming to Utah.
Don Peay, with Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said wolves have decimated the hunting industry in Idaho to a tune of $50 million, nearly wiping out entire elk herds.
"We want to get ahead of the curve," Peay said. "The state of Idaho has not been able to sell $10 million in licenses because when you don't have game, hunters don't buy them."
Wolves have not existed in Utah since they were exterminated by early settlers to protect livestock, according to the state wildlife agency. There have been periodic sightings of "suspected" wolf packs over the years, and two lone wolfs have been trapped and removed.
Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, described himself as an avid sportsman and said wolves returning to Utah would devastate big game herds.
"Wolves in Utah are serious," McKell said. "The amount of money we would lose would far exceed the $10 million that Idaho lost."
Robinson said sportsmen are using scare tactics to thwart an animal's return to Utah and drum up the desire to shoot them elsewhere.
"I don't think we can afford spending that kind of money when the alleged threat doesn't exist," he said.
McKell said during the hearing that the Lolo elk herd numbers in Idaho experienced drastic declines — from 20,000 to 1,700 after wolves were introduced — but Robinson called that a "gross exaggeration."
"You can't just blame it on the wolves," he said. "There are many factors."
The appropriation request has yet to be acted on at the Legislature, where members of the Executive Appropriations Committee are still crafting the budget.