Legislator howls about spending for wolves

Jul 10 2013 - 12:12am

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A state legislator is howling over spending to keep Canadian wolves out of Utah.

Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, used a legislative audit subcommittee meeting this week to ask for a review of how state money regarding the Canadian wolf is being spent.

The Legislature appropriated $300,000 on the issue in 2013, and another $300,000 is appropriated for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Davis said the money is being given to Big Game Forever, a group claiming the wolf population in the northwest is growing and thinning the herds of elk and moose.

Davis thinks the money may be going to lobbying efforts out of state to keep wolf populations in check. He is not sure any of it is being spent locally.

"Where is the money going? How is it being spent?" Davis said. He said it makes little sense to be spending money addressing the wolf question, when the Canadian wolf was delisted in 2011 by presidential decree, which allows the state to implement a program to limit the population, if it so chooses.

The Senate leader also said it is inappropriate for the state to be helping any private organization. He said if legislators had chosen to give $300,000 to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance for land conservation, and not BGF to address wolves, they would hear about it.

"People would be screaming bloody murder if we gave money to SUWA," Davis said.

Auditor General John Schaff said auditors have already compiled some of the information Davis is looking for. He said the audit would simply be asking for documentation of what has already been accounted for. Committee members did vote unanimously for Schaff's office to provide that documentation.

Committee members openly discussed how to pursue information about any state funds, which may have been co-mingled with funds from other states. Schaff said state officials can request information but have no authority to force disclosure of how a private group spends its money.

Discussion about spending on wolves also evolved into discussion of whether the committee has the authority to hold back appropriated funds for this year, already approved by the Legislature. House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, said she didn't think the committee had that authority.

The issue of funding for wolves came up at the end of the 2013 legislative session this year. Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said the money is being spent to limit the impact wolves can have on wildlife herds and potentially cattle.

Davis isn't buying the argument. He said the Canadian wolf is not indigenous to Utah and there is no proof any herds have been thinned by the predator in the Beehive State.

Big Game Forever is a political action group that spun off Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. The group's website claims that before wolves were introduced in Idaho the population of elk was 20,000. Now that population is 1,700. The same trend is shown in Yellowstone Park, where the population of elk was also estimated to be at approximately 20,000 before wolves were introduced in the park. It said the elk herd is now down to 6,500. In Jackson, Wyo., the numbers show a similar trend with the moose population. Before the wolf was reintroduced to the area, the moose population was 1,200. BGF now claims the herd is down to 120.

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