Wolf scenario frustrates Wyo’s ag community
Casper – News that the federal government will send wolves back to the endangered species list and abandon its delisting decision from earlier this year has members of Wyoming’s ag community wondering just how much the state will be asked to give up.
“When wolves were put in they said the number needed for delisting was 300,” says Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton. “We’ve seen where that number is false. We’ve also heard from the environmental community that the minimum we need is in the neighborhood of 6,000. You have to realize that’s their goal and they say we can’t delist until wolves are repopulated in Colorado and Utah. The only way to get that would be to increase the numbers to 5,000 to 6,000. That would mean wolves throughout Wyoming.”
Earlier this year when a Missoula, Mont.-based federal judge returned wolves to federal protection, lacking numbers for genetic diversity and a limited trophy game area were among the primary concerns.
Cody rancher Gary Lundvall, former chairman of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, says there needs to be a return to former Commission beliefs. If Wyoming can’t manage on its own terms, Lundvall says the federal government should continue management. Management on Wyoming’s terms, says Lundvall, includes a trophy game area that only includes the national parks and wilderness areas of northwest Wyoming. The Wyoming Game and Fish has estimated management costs at around $2 million a year.
“We’ve done everything they said we needed to,” says Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Vice President Bryce Reece. “I think we need to sue the FWS in federal district court in Wyoming.” In doing so he says he’d like to see management under Wyoming’s terms as the goal.
“I don’t know where they’re headed with it,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna of the federal government’s decision. “One thought is they could just give up, but I don’t think that’s their intent.”
Magagna says he thinks the Fish and Wildlife Service will either go back and strengthen the decision or issue a new decision. “I’m fearful their issue of a new decision will put pressure on Wyoming again to further amend our wolf management plan,” he says. “Changing Wyoming’s plan could mean something as little as tweaking our commitment to 15 breeding pairs, or something as big as pressuring the state to give up predator status.”
Looking back, Hamilton says, “I was disappointed when Wyoming changed its law to accommodate the federal government.” He says the fact that Wyoming tried to be accommodating and was subsequently treated this way just goes to show the Endangered Species Act is broken. “Why it may have been a ‘success’ in numbers,” says Hamilton, “it shows how broken the ESA really is.”
“We won’t get the flexibility outside the trophy game area we were hoping for,” says Reece of the relisting decision. He believes the federal government will someday soon find itself trying to explain what happened to Wyoming’s wildlife populations. “They’ll have to mitigate the impacts on livestock, which is a costly endeavor, and they’re also going to see their pronouncements that this won’t have a big impact on big game come into question.”
“We have no faith in the Fish and Wildlife Service, and I’m very concerned now about the call from some Wyoming state legislators to look at amending our plan again,” says Magagna. “It’s a vicious circle, and even if we change our plan and they delist again some groups will keep the issue alive by going to court. It’s a horrible mistake for Wyoming to play into that game.”
As Hamilton says, “They’re going to be left holding the bag and they won’t be able to blame Wyoming. If they keep moving the goal post, who knows where we’re going to be.”
“We’ve always said if we can’t manage under our terms the feds can keep them,” states Lundvall.
On Sept. 24 House Speaker Roy Cohee announced a two-day special meeting of the joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee within the next 20 days. The Committee will consider Wyoming’s options, which include suing the Fish and Wildlife Service, accepting continued federal management of wolves or the creation of a new wolf management plan when the Wyoming Legislature meets early next year.
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.