Legislators hear public viewpoints on wolf statutes, dealing with FWS
Riverton – Following two days of testimony from officials and the interested public, members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee (TRW) plan to meet again to discuss Wyoming’s next step as it relates to wolves within the state.
“It’s like shaking hands with an octopus,” said State Representative Frank Philp (R-Shoshoni) on Oct. 20 in Riverton. “You shake hands with one tentacle and there’s another tentacle of the federal government that doesn’t know what you’ve done.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials have rescinded their March 2008 delisting rule relating to wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The decision comes on the heels of a Missoula, Mont.-based federal judge’s ruling against the delisting primarily on account of Wyoming’s plan. Primary reasons included dual classification, lack of genetic connectivity and his belief Wyoming isn’t committed to providing enough wolf packs. Wyoming officials expressed dismay at the FWS’s reluctance to defend the delisting rule after earlier agreeing to and approving Wyoming’s wolf management plan.
“Our management plan was written by Mitch King (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official) and we were told it would work,” said Bob Wharff of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. “I believe we should do nothing and get ready to challenge the ESA on the grounds that it is trumping state rights.”
FWS’s Mike Jimenez said wolves need the ability to travel between Wyoming and Idaho to ensure genetic connectivity. Accomplishing that, he said, would require a protected corridor further south than now exists since the Tetons prevent their passage further north.
FWS officials say they plan to proceed with a new delisting rule specific to Idaho and Montana. Given their early January 2009 timeline, the action provides no opportunity for the legislature to adjust state statutes and be a part of the delisting decision, should they decide to do so.
Wyoming Attorney General Bruce Salzburg told lawmakers the state is left with three basic decisions – do nothing, address the court’s concerns with regulatory changes or amend the statutes to address the court’s concerns. Salzburg doubted regulatory changes could, in fact, make Wyoming’s plan acceptable at the federal level.
“I don’t think we want to get it under state management under any conditions,” advised Philp.
“I’m for changing it to get control in our hands,” said Reg Phillips of Diamond D Cattle Company near Dubois. “Wyoming should be controlling our own destiny.”
Pinedale area rancher Dave Noble asked the legislature to maintain its position and not change Wyoming’s current plan. “It’s clear to me that genetic exchange is another word for expansion of the wolf area,” he said.
“It’s time to get off dead center and head in a new direction,” said Budd Betts of the Dunoir Valley near Dubois. He advised the committee draft legislation to show good intention and use it as leverage with the FWS. “If there is a new plan there’s no guarantee of eliminating further litigation. The purpose would be to create litigation we could win.”
“Wyoming needs to stay with its current wolf plan and renew litigation against the FWS to gain acceptance of our wolf management plan,” said Daniel rancher Charles Price, who was in attendance to represent the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association. “If the FWS won’t accept Wyoming’s plan then let them keep the wolves.” Price cautioned against any decision that would allow wolves to establish statewide.
“New times call for new strategies,” said State Representative Jeb Steward of Saratoga in calling for a three-state planning effort.
State Senator Eli Bebout of Riverton said he supports Wyoming maintaining its current position, noting, “Dual classification is really important.” Looking back to initial wolf discussions, Bebout commented, “The number of wolves I remember is 300. Once we got there we thought we’d done our job.”
Jon Robinett of the Dubois area Diamond G Ranch said had Wyoming adopted trophy game classification status two years ago the state wouldn’t currently be in its present situation.
Franc Camenzind of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance said new studies show that between 2,000 and 3,000 wolves are needed to ensure genetic connectivity. “If we isolate populations we’ll have to have three times that,” he said.
“We believe the FWS decision to redo the delisting rule provides Wyoming an opportunity to craft a responsible science-based management plan,” said Melanie Stein of the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The predator zone allowed unregulated take in 88 percent of the state.”
Chris Colligan, representing the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, spoke in favor of a statewide trophy game classification. “Wolves can be managed like lions and bears are now without harm to wildlife or ag,” he said.
“Who is defending Wyoming?” asked Fremont County Commissioner and rancher Doug Thompson. “FWS worked out a deal with you and you changed the law to accommodate their concerns.” Noting the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results Thompson said, “Doing that one more time and expecting different results is probably close to insanity.”
A date hasn’t yet been set for the next meeting of the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee. Watch future editions of the Roundup for updates. Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at Jennifer@wylr.net.