Source:"Wyoming lawmakers recommend approval of wolf plan"
November 08, 2011
CHEYENNE — A panel of Wyoming lawmakers voted Tuesday to recommend approval of a plan that could remove federal protections from gray wolves in the state as soon as next year.
Members of the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee voted unanimously in Thermopolis to approve a bill that would change the state's existing wolf-management plan. The full Legislature will consider the issue when it meets in February. Revising the state plan is a key step in getting wolves in the state off the federal list of endangered species
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, a Sheridan Republican, is co-chairman of the committee.
"I think everybody realizes that this is the best course of action for the state," Burns said after the committee vote. "Nobody's particularly happy one way or another. We wish we were done with this and delisted. And there's also quite a bit of undercurrent of distrust of the feds — that we've been misled before."
Wyoming is the last state in the northern Rockies where wolves remain federally protected. Idaho and Montana have taken over state management of wolves in recent years and are already staging wolf hunts after adopting federally approved management plans.
Wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone and other areas in the mid-1990s. The wolf population in the Northern Rockies has rebounded since then to more than 1,600 animals, including more than 300 in Wyoming.
Gov. Matt Mead and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reached agreement this summer on a plan to turn management of Wyoming's wolves over to the state. The plan would require Wyoming to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park.
Under the agreement, Wyoming would classify wolves as unprotected predators that could be shot on sight in most areas. However, wolves would be classified as trophy game animals in a flexible trophy game zone in the northwestern corner of the state, outside Yellowstone.
Success of the Wyoming plan likely would hinge on Congress approving pending language exempting the delisting action from court challenges from environmental groups. Congress already has exempted de-listings in Idaho and Montana from legal challenges.
Wyoming has sparred with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and environmental groups in the courts for years over the prospect of state management. The federal agency helped Wyoming revise its wolf management plan in 2007 but later repudiated the plan after a federal judge criticized it in response to a lawsuit brought by environmental groups.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, testified to the commission that his group supports the bill. He applauded the committee for amending the bill to provide $300,000 to the state game department to reimburse livestock owners for wolf losses within the flexible trophy game area.
Magagna said he believes the full Legislature will approve the plan next year.
"There's a general feeling that the governor did some good-faith negotiation, and we ought to give it a chance to work," Magagna said. "There certainly is a lot of concern about the need for and the ability to get some congressional approval of the plan afterwards, because I think the general feeling is if we don't get that, we'll just be back in court again."
Richard Garrett of the Wyoming Outdoor Council said Tuesday that a biologist with his group testified to the committee on Tuesday that wolves should be managed as protected game animals throughout the state. Failing that, he said the group believes they should be permanently protected in the proposed flexible management zone south of Yellowstone to maintain connectivity with neighboring wolves in Idaho.
'That seems to be a concern of everybody that this biological diversity be maintained," Garrett said.
Steve Ferrell, wildlife adviser to Gov. Mead, said Tuesday that he's encouraged by the committee's approval of the bill.
"That was a very important piece of the process that has a lot of pieces to it," Ferrell said. "Without the legislative approval, the agreement goes nowhere."
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