Wolf legislation passes House TRW Committee
Cheyenne — The House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources (TRW) Committee passed HB32 “Gray Wolf Management,” with amendments on Feb. 4. The bill now heads to the House floor for further consideration.
HB32 maintains dual classification of wolves, allowing for predator and trophy game management areas in Wyoming. The legislation provides for wolf hunting seasons so long as a minimum number of wolves are maintained. HB32 also restricts the definition of “chronic depredation.”
As amended, HB32 says Wyoming will agree to manage for 15 breeding pairs of wolves, only if the National Park Service (PS) enters into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to manage for wolves in the parks. Without a MOA, Wyoming will commit to managing for only seven breeding pairs. Committing to 15 breeding pairs had been a concern, as the PS does not manage wildlife, and generally does not enter into MOAs.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Director Steve Ferrell stated in an Interim TRW Committee meeting last fall that although state statute allows the Game and Fish Commission to adjust the trophy game boundary, “they don’t feel like they have that authority.” Last week the TRW Committee amended HB32 to state the Commission has the authority to expand or contract the boundary, only expanding it if there are fewer than 15 breeding pairs in Wyoming. Expanding the boundary must be done through the public review process and be reviewed every 90 days until wolf populations meet their objective and the boundary can be contracted. The boundary is to be reduced as soon as the wolf population returns to 15 breeding pairs.
There is also a provision in the bill to allow the WGFD to enter into MOAs with Montana and Idaho to track genetic connectivity of wolves. Last summer, a Montana federal judge indicated concern over a perceived lack of genetic connectivity. Studies have since proven genetic connectivity exists between the wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
Another amendment uses language similar to that passed in 2007 wolf legislation. If passed, HB32 would not become effective until the federal government delists wolves in Wyoming.
Senator Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan) drafted the original HB32 legislation, which passed with amendments during an Interim Joint TRW Committee meeting in late November.
On Jan. 30 the TRW Committee met with five proposed bills for consideration including HB32 and four others introduced by various individuals and committee members. The meeting was broadcast to five locations in western Wyoming through video conferencing. Attorney General Bruce Salzburg advised the Committee on possible legal implications of the bills. Nine individuals testified in Cheyenne, while eight testified from the remote locations.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA), Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife, and some ranchers requested that the Committee take no action. “Our position has been ‘no bill.’ We don’t know what the federal government wants, so why give anything,” said Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President of the WSGA, after the Committee meeting.
The Committee took a straw poll and decided to consider three of the five bills before them — HB32, HB148, HB245. HB148 and HB245 did not pass.
Representative Allen Jaggi (R-Lyman) introduced HB148 Gray Wolves – Legislative Declaration, which would direct the WGFD to assume management authority over wolves no later than May 1, 2009, even if they have not been delisted by that date. Although four people testified in favor of this bill, it failed. Attorney General Bruce Salzburg said that if it became law, he didn’t believe Wyoming could successfully defend it in court.
HB245 Wolf Management, introduced by Representative Kermit Brown (R-Laramie), would have repealed 2007 legislation returning the trophy game boundary to include the national parks and contiguous wilderness areas.
Two other bills — HB21 and HB143 — were not considered by the Committee. HB21, introduced by Keith Gingery (R-Jackson), called for statewide trophy game status and limited wolves that could be taken to protect livestock and dogs. It received strong support from the WGFD, Wyoming Wildlife Federation and environmental groups.
HB143, introduced by Kathy Davison (R-Kemmerer), would have directed the WGFD to manage for 15 breeding pairs of wolves in the state, only if the PS entered into a memorandum of understanding regarding management of wolves in the parks.
WWGA Executive Vice President, Bryce Reece said, “While it is our job to strongly advocate our association’s positions, it is also our charge to make and take every avenue offered to us to better our industry’s outcomes in any legislation which has potential to affect our members and the legislature deems worthy of moving forward. To that end, we have provided suggestions to the legislature on HB32 which would leave the ranching industry better served, should the bill pass.”
Echo Renner is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.