Gov Mead, FWS reach agreement on wolf management
Cheyenne – On Aug. 3 Gov. Matt Mead and representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finalized the elements of a proposed plan for management of wolves by the state of Wyoming.
Although it’s the culmination of many years of work between Wyoming and federal officials, Mead says it’s far from the end of the process.
“I think we have come up with something that fits with Wyoming’s values and economy,” said Mead after the announcement. “For years, ranchers and sheep producers have been asked to sacrifice, and they have. We have lost significant numbers of elk and moose, and we have not had a say in the management of an animal inside Wyoming. It is time for that to change, and I appreciate Secretary Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working with us. Wolves are recovered in Wyoming; let’s get them off the Endangered Species List.”
Under the proposed plan, Wyoming will maintain at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside of Yellowstone National Park. The Trophy Game Management Area will extend about 50 miles south of its current location, and the expansion area will be managed as a Trophy Game Management Area from Oct. 15 to the end of February. For all other months wolves would be managed as predators in the expanded area.
The proposed plan requires approval of the Wyoming State Legislature, and Mead has said he also wants Congressional approval of the plan.
“For too long wolf management has been run by the courts. We need Wyoming people to have a say in what happens in our state, and a congressionally approved plan is the best way to ensure we advance this effort,” he stated. “This is an important step towards removing wolves from the Endangered Species List, but there are many more steps to come. We appreciate the work of stakeholders in Wyoming, and we appreciate the work of Senator Barrasso, Congressman Lummis and Senator Enzi.”
In response to the plan, Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says he sees two strengths – a firm number for a minimum population, and the concept of the “flex line.”
“Assuming we get it done, and it holds, I like that we’re not dependent on what happens in Yellowstone National Park or tribal lands, where we have no state control,” he says. “The flex line goes a little farther south than I would have liked to see, but it’s a workable line, and the timeframe from Oct. 15 through February keeps wolves as predators in most of the areas where there will be livestock, with the exception of the northern half of Star Valley.”
Magagna says the flexible Trophy Game Management Area line concept has been part of Gov. Mead’s approach from the beginning.
“From early on I’ve been aware of different trophy game lines, and Mead was strong in insisting that any expansion of the current trophy game area be seasonal only,” he explains.
Magagna notes that the weaknesses of the plan lie not in the agreement itself, but that the “devil is always in the details.”
“The big weakness is that, unless we can get Congress to give a blessing to delisting, then we just go back to court again. It’s an endless cycle of litigation,” he says. “Once FWS moves forward and delists, which I’m assuming they’ll do in good faith, there are lots of things they could do. I don’t know if this agreement binds them to delist, or to issue a delisting order, which is then subject to public input. I think congressional blessing is really key at this point.”
“After years of unnecessary delay, it’s good that we are finally seeing progress from Washington on this issue,” said Barrasso in response to the plan agreement. “I am pleased Governor Mead has reached a delisting agreement with the Department of Interior. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should honor this agreement and fulfill its promise to expedite a delisting rule.”
Enzi agreed, saying, “I appreciate Governor Mead’s hard work to come up with a solution that works for both Wyoming and for the Department of Interior. Wolf populations have exceeded all recovery goals, and their population growth is endangering our state’s wildlife and livestock industry. We cannot allow that to continue, and it is time to remove Endangered Species Act protection from these predators in Wyoming in the same way that protection was removed for wolves in Idaho and Montana. Removing wolves from the Endangered Species List has been a priority of mine since I came to the Senate. Although the deal must be approved by the Wyoming State Legislature, I am grateful to see movement on an issue that has limited the state’s ability to address a local problem for so many years.”
Of Congressional action on the issue, Enzi said, “Rep. Lummis and Senator Barrasso also deserve credit for their work on this issue. Rep. Lummis was able to use her seat on the House Appropriations Committee to get the wolf language included in the Interior Appropriations bill, and Senator Barrasso has been using his committee assignments to push this cause, as well.”
Magagna says the first step in Wyoming will be for the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to amend the current state wolf management plan to correspond with the settlement, and it won’t be formally valid until the Wyoming Legislature makes the necessary changes.
“It will start with the Commission, and we’ll watch closely how they proceed,” he says, adding that he’ll particularly watch the language about landowners being able to remove wolves in the act of harassing or depredating livestock within the Trophy Game Management Area. “How that gets worded is very important. As a ranching industry we need to be very involved and alert as to how those details are spelled out, but I suspect the new plan will be similar to what’s in the current wolf management plan.”
In addition to what’s in the agreement, Magagna says WSGA will advocate for compensation of livestock losses in both the permanent trophy game management area, as well as the temporary area.
Of the agreement as a whole, Magagna says, “My sense is, at this point, that everyone is generally pleased, and we now have a wait-and-see attitude. The one reservation that’s most common is a lack of faith and trust in FWS to live by their agreements. In the past they haven’t.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.