Wyoming left out of FWS’s wolf delisting rule
Enviros, expressing dislike for Idaho and Montana plans, say they’ll sue
Cheyenne – Wyoming won’t be included in a wolf delisting rule to be published in the Federal Register later this month according to a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released Jan. 14.
The FWS plans to publish its delisting proposal in the Federal Register late January. Removing wolves in Idaho, Montana and the Great Lakes states from Endangered Species Act listings, FWS said the proposal doesn’t include Wyoming. The agency said “…gray wolves found within the borders of Wyoming will continue to be protected by the Act due to a lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms ensuring their protection under state law.”
Wyoming’s current wolf management plan was earlier approved by the FWS. Prior to the predator’s initial delisting in February 2008, the agency and the state had reached what state legislators thought to be an agreement on the plan. As a court case brought by environmentalists progressed the agency backed away from its commitment to Wyoming.
In its prepared statement the FWS states, “As a result of a Montana United States District Court decision on July 18, 2008, the Service reexamined Wyoming law, its management plans and implementing regulations. While the Service has approved wolf management plans in Montana and Idaho, it has determined that Wyoming’s state law and wolf management plan are not sufficient to conserve Wyoming’s portion of a recovered northern Rocky Mountain wolf population. Therefore, even though Wyoming is included in the northern Rocky Mountain DPS, the subpopulation of gray wolves in Wyoming is not being removed from protection of the Endangered Species Act. Continued management under the Endangered Species Act by the Service will ensure that the recovery goal of 300 wolves in Wyoming is sustained.”
Legislation to be considered by the Wyoming Legislature is aimed at addressing FWS concerns following the Montana case. How legislators will handle those bills, given this latest information from the FWS, remains to be seen.
HB32, sponsored by the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources (TRW) committee, would commit Wyoming to maintaining 15 breeding pairs in the state above and beyond those within Yellowstone National Park. That’s an expansion from the current plan that counts wolves within Yellowstone as part of Wyoming’s commitment.
A second piece of legislation, and the further reaching of the two, is sponsored by Representative Keith Gingery (R-Jackson). HB21 would classify wolves as trophy game in the entire state. Wyoming statute now designates wolves as trophy game in portions of Northwest Wyoming while classifying them as predators in the remainder of the state upon delisting. A representative of the Sierra Club, speaking at a Fall 2008 legislative meeting to discuss wolves in Casper, said her group won’t be satisfied until wolves are classified as trophy game statewide.
Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, noting that he hasn’t had a chance to read the nearly 300-page document, said he’s trying to remain open-minded to any specific requests the FWS might put forth in the Federal Register. If there are specific guidelines the state must meet to achieve delisting, he said Wyoming would have to review whether or not the requests are something the state can meet.
In the meantime, he said that doesn’t change the WSGA position. “We have presented a plan that we know, and our experts at Game and Fish agree, will allow us to manage a viable wolf population that meets the goal of not letting wolves be re-listed. My position would be that the legislature should not change our plan.”
“Our first priority is to try and get the legislature to hold tough,” said Wyoming Wool Growers Executive Vice President Bryce Reece. He said that when he talks to his counterparts in Montana and Idaho that he hears that those states’ plans aren’t working. “We still think Wyoming’s plan is one that protects the livestock industry the best,” said Reece.
Both Reece and Magagna see the issue heading back to the courts. Magagna said the State of Wyoming, environmentalists and the livestock community could find themselves on the same side of the litigation opposing the delisting proposal for singling out Wyoming.
A Jan. 14 statement from the Sierra Club said, “The Sierra Club, along with other conservation groups, plans to challenge the wolf delisting decision in court.”
The group contends, “The division of a wolf population according to state lines is not based on science. Additionally, Idaho proposed liberal hunting seasons for wolves and Montana continued to remove wolves at an astonishing rate in 2008.”
“This is an attempt to circumvent the protection needed for wolves throughout this region,” said Sierra Club representative Melanie Stein. “Removing federal protections for wolves will leave them at the mercy of aggressive state plans that treat wolves as pests rather than a valuable wildlife resource. Releasing yet another flawed delisting rule is simply a last ditch attempt to remove protections for wolves before the Bush administration leaves office.”
“In a competent court, we think the plan is defensible,” said Reece. “This thing is going to be decided in court no matter what anybody says. The quicker we can get there and get it decided the better off it will be for all of us.”
FWS said recovery goals for the Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment were 30 breeding pairs and at least 300 wolves in the three state area, a goal that was met in 2002. According to Wolf Recovery Coordinator Mike Jimenez, end of year counts for 2008 indicate there are 314 wolves within the boundaries of Wyoming including those in Yellowstone National Park.
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.