Residents try to figure out if wolves help or hinder

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    By Michael J. Koberlein

    Dust swirls along the country road as an old pickup parts the hills with a leather-handed rancher gripping the wheel, wearing a half smile on his sun-worn face.

    He looks forward to cattle sales that should provide enough income for a comfortable year for he and his family.

    But the rancher?s smile wires to a grimace as he passes by motionless cattle ? a deadly wolf attack took three.

    Sterling Brown, vice president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, said the bureau wanted to give ranchers the authority to protect their livestock.

    They found the initial wolf management plan presented to them by Utah?s wolf working group insufficient. They were joined by other concerned agriculturalists in amending the state?s plan, which was then approved by the state.

    That plan would give them the authority to protect their investments, he said.

    ?Until the wolf is de-listed as an endangered species, the plan will not be implemented,? Brown said.

    A struggle continues with environmentalists and those in the agricultural world both fighting for what they believe to be the right thing concerning wolves in Utah.

    Monty Weston, a cattle rancher from northeastern Utah, said the damage wolves can do to a man?s livestock is devastating.

    ?If they kill a calf and you have your calves contracted to market, and it is $1.40 a pound and that?s what you?ve lost, that cuts into a small businesses profit very substantially,? he said. ?We?ve got a bottom line just like everybody else.?

    Weston said they haven?t seen any wolves yet, but if they did see a wolf they would have to call the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources rather than take matters into their own hands. That isn?t always effective because the wolves can do the damage and be miles away before Weston learns about it.

    He said he doesn?t want any confrontation with environmentalists, but every time a wolf kills a calf that rancher potentially loses more than $1,000.

    ?I get passionate about it when you start talking about putting bread and butter on the table for your family,? he said. ?If they want to see the cute little things [wolves] frolicking in the meadow, they can go to Yellowstone or to the zoo.?

    Clark Willis, a sheep producer in northern Utah, said he knows of instances in Montana where ranchers are losing 200 lambs a year, forcing them to find another way to make a living, and that?s not the only problem with wolves.

    ?The sheep are restless,? Willis said. ?They?re not feeding, they?re not grazing, they?re not content ? they?re just uneasy.?

    If the lambs are always anxious when wolves are nearby, they don?t eat, and if they don?t eat, they don?t gain weight and ranchers don?t make money, he said.

    ?We sell all of our lambs for meat and they are sold by X-number of cents per pound,? Willis said. ?It adds up.?

    Dick Carter, coordinator of the High Uintas Preservation Council, an environmentalist group that among other things seeks to preserve natural habitat for wolves, said allowing wolves to be in Utah ?defines our humaneness.?

    ?We have the ability to say ?It?s the right thing to do for wolves? because we are humane enough and gracious enough to say they can live with us,? he said.

    Carter said when wolves do kill a rancher?s livestock it?s not a problem with the wolves but a management problem. Wolves and livestock can co-exist in Utah without any major problems for ranchers.

    ?The livestock industry loves to say wolves, livestock and sheep cannot survive together, in its simplistic arrogant yammering,? he said. ?But that?s not what the discussion is about. ? It?s realizing wolves lived here and they belong here. If you go backpacking and you hear a wolf howl you would say to yourself ?This place feels good ? it feels right.??

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