Wolves: Tighter take regs questioned
Cody – About 25 people gathered in Cody Nov. 6 to learn about and submit written comments on the numerous revisions the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (G&F) has made to the state’s wolf management plan. The G&F hosted a similar meeting in Lander on Nov. 7 after the Roundup went to press.
G&F Wildlife Assistant Chief Bill Rudd says the G&F has changed the wolf management plan to address the issues raised by a federal judge in Montana who granted a preliminary injunction against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to delist wolves.
“The FWS has provided the G&F with a 30-day comment period (October 28 – November 28) to address the points the judge brought up. The G&F has to gather public comments and prepare our own comments to present to the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission at their meeting in Jackson Nov. 17-18, and the Commission has to provide comment to the FWS. That’s why we did this emergency rule, and we’ve already started promulgating the rule.”
The G&F says draft revisions to the plan include language to clarify Wyoming’s commitment to maintain at least 15 breeding pair of wolves and 150 individual wolves inside Wyoming’s established Trophy Game Management Area and the national parks. The draft also addresses actions the commission will take if numbers within Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the Rockefeller Parkway drop below eight breeding pair.
Other revisions in the draft include shortening some reporting requirements for those who kill wolves, either through licensed hunting or through livestock depredation actions; further defining “damage to private property” and “chronic wolf depredation,” and further restricting the Wyoming G&F Commission’s ability to change the boundaries of the Trophy Game Management Area.
People in the ag community voiced concern about additional restrictions placed on lethal take permits. Previously, there was no limit on the number of wolves that could be removed with a lethal take permit, and permits did not expire. Under new revisions, no more than two wolves could be taken with a permit, and permits expire each Dec. 31. Landowners could potentially apply for and receive additional lethal take permits if chronic depredation requirements are met.
Under current regulations, means of lethal take include control by federal agency personnel or by G&F personnel. A landowner could apply for and potentially receive a permit from the appropriate agency for lethal take if they meet requirements for chronic wolf depredation. WS 23-115 also allows landowners to take wolves and other predators such as mountain lions caught in the act of predating.
G&F made it clear, however, that if the wolf population drops below the required 15 packs or 150 wolves, wolves will be allowed to kill livestock and ungulates without any form of lethal control. G&F may employ means of nonlethal control, such as fladry and rag boxes, which wolves adapt to very quickly, and which are considered to be relatively ineffective.
Environmentalists spoke in favor, both during and after the meeting, of expanding the trophy game boundary to include the entire state, essentially removing the wolf predator area. Representative Pat Childers of Cody later said, “The Game & Fish Commission has the ability to move the state boundary temporarily in order to get the wolf delisted and under state control. Depending on how management comes out, and how we are able to keep the wolf numbers, we can move that line back to the current boundary. I was in favor of having that boundary be the forest boundary or the wilderness boundary, but the FWS wouldn’t go for that.” Childers added, “If the environmental community wants to try to get us to move that boundary permanently, I’m not going to support that, and I don’t think the Committee will either.” Childers is talking about the Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee that he co-chairs. The group plans to hold a second meeting on the topic of potential wolf legislation for the 2009 General Session on Nov. 20 in Casper.
Some questioned what would be done to meet the new requirements of “genetic connectivity” between the three states. The G&F revised plan states, “This will be accomplished by encouraging the incorporation of effective migrants into the gray wolf population. Conservation measures will include, but are not limited to, working with other states to promote natural dispersal into and within the Wyoming Trophy Game Management Area and, if necessary, by relocating or translocation.”
Previously, only one study has been done to determine the genetic connectivity of wolves. According to G&F, the FWS is currently conducting it’s own study.
Chris Colligan, Wyoming Wildlife Advocate with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition out of Jackson who previously worked for the G&F, and others voiced concern about the short time individuals have to comment, and how quickly the FWS is pushing for delisting. “I believe it’s way too rushed. It appears they want to get this done before the end of this administration.” Colligan indicated statutory changes are necessary to meet the judge’s requirements for delisting.
In November 2007, the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission last revised its wolf management plan. That plan was subsequently accepted by the FWS and wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains were removed from the federal Threatened and Endangered Species List in March 2008. Wolves were then relisted in September 2008, after a federal judge in Montana granted a preliminary injunction against the delisting decision, and the FWS requested a remand of their delisting rule.
On Oct. 29 the G&F announced it had revised the state’s wolf management plan, and would host the Cody and Lander meetings to receive public comment. They intend to finalize the project on the new delisting rule before the federal agency’s public comment period ends later this month. The G&F Commission will address the plan during their meeting in Jackson on Nov. 17-18.
“We see revising Wyoming’s plan to address the judge’s concerns as a necessary step toward getting wolves permanently delisted,” said G&F Department Director Steve Ferrell. “It’s clear that wolves are recovered in the Northern Rocky Mountains and doing well. We have more than five times the number of wolves called for in the original delisting proposal. It’s time for them to be delisted and for the states to assume management.”
The entire draft revised plan, emergency rules, and statement of reason are available on the Wyoming Game and Fish website at: http://gf.state.wy.us/. Echo Renner is the Field Editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.