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Conservationists Ask Utah to Spare Endangered Mexican Gray Wolf

The rare Mexican gray wolf is protected in all states by the Endangered Species Act, except in parts of northeastern Utah, where it has been delisted.

Utah officials have placed a trap-and-destroy order on an endangered Mexican gray wolf believed to have killed livestock in the state. Conservation groups are calling on state wildlife officials to humanely capture the rare predator, and release it into the wild. 

Mexican gray wolves were brought back from near-extinction by the Endangered Species Act, signed in 1973. A calf was found dead around June 1 on a ranch in northeast Utah – a region where Mexican gray wolves are not on the endangered list. Biologist Michael Robinson with the Center For Biological Diversity said the animal should still be protected by federal law.


"Biologically, under the standards of the Endangered Species Act, these are still endangered animals," said Robinson. "And it's intuitively obvious, because there's only one of them that's on the run; it doesn't even have a family in that area. So, they're very much in peril, very much qualify under the Endangered Species Act."


Leann Hunting with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food said, as of Tuesday, the wolf had not been seen or captured, and state officers were no longer actively searching for it. However, the wolf could still be trapped or killed by private citizens, since it is designated as a nuisance.


Robinson said government agencies hunted wolves into extinction in most western states, including Utah, during the 20th century, to protect ranchers’ herds from predation. He said this changed with the Endangered Species Act.


"The Endangered Species Act led to reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995, and the reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves from the last few surviving animals, their descendants, in 1998," said Robinson.


He said conservationists and biologists have worked since the late 1970s to restore the species to its historical habitats. The program began with fewer than a dozen animals, and now there are at least 163 Mexican grays in the wild.

Despite their federal recognition as endangered, in 2011, the Utah congressional delegation attached a rider to the federal budget that decertified Mexican grays in a small part of the state. Robinson said challenges to that regulation are still being litigated.