FWS hearing looks for comment on wolf delisting
Riverton – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed a rule to delist the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List, and the agency opened the rule to a public comment hearing in Riverton on Nov. 14.
“If this rule is finalized, and the gray wolf is delisted in Wyoming, the nonessential, experimental population designation would be removed and the future management of wolves would be conducted by the appropriate state or tribal agency, except in national parks and national wildlife refuges,” explained FWS Wyoming wolf coordinator Mike Jimenez.
“In Wyoming, last year we had minimal counts of at least 34 packs, and of those there were at least 19 breeding pairs,” added Jimenez. “The recovery goals were far exceeded and we think that the wolf population is robust and growing.”
After a short informational session where participants had the opportunity to ask any questions about the delisting rule, the floor was opened for a federal hearing to receive comments on the proposal.
“Research indicates that wolves in Wyoming are recovered,” stated FWS assistant regional director for ecological services Mike Thabault at the opening of the hearing. “Additional changes to Wyoming state laws and Wyoming Game and Fish Commission regulations are necessary. We expect Wyoming to adopt necessary changes within the next several months.”
Ultimately, the delisting rule would allow wolves to be managed by the state. The USFWS service has also provided four criteria for status review of the wolves.
“If the population ever falls below 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves statewide at any time, including the areas in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and the Wind River Reservation (WRR); if the population fall below 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves for any three consecutive years, excluding YNP and WRR; if the population falls below 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves for three consecutive years; or if there is a change in state laws or management that results in threats, the status of the gray wolf will be evaluated,” said wolf coordinator for the USFWS Mountain-Prairie Regional Office Seth Willey.
Public comments ranged from full support of the rule to firm opposition of the subject.
“I do support the delisting of wolves and Wyoming Game and Fish Department management of wolves,” commented Don Lewis. “The economic impacts to be very well understood.”
Lewis’s concerns came from a sportsman’s perspective and he noted that hunting opportunities for both moose and elk have been limited partly as a result of wolf predation.
The Fremont County Cattlemen, represented by Joe Crofts, spoke in favor of not only the proposed rule, but also of the boundaries of the predator zone.
Others speaking in favor of the proposal included Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton.
“Recent Farm Bureau Policy supports it, and the rule is long overdue,” said Hamilton. “The 2003 plan was rejected by the FWS not because of biological reasons, but because of political reasons, and this plan goes further. It is supported by biology, it is supported legally, and it is supported politically.”
Sophie Osborn of the Wyoming Outdoor Council voiced strong support for state management of the wolves, with concerns for the predator zone.
“The WGFD should be responsible for management throughout the state,” said Osborn. “If statewide trophy game status is no longer considered a viable option, we believe that at a minimum, the trophy game area should be expanded.”
Osborn also spoke against the flex line, noting that the Wyoming Outdoor Council supports that line as a permanent boundary.
The Wyoming Chapter of Sierra Club International was also represented at the hearing. Darryle Murphy spoke in opposition to the plan.
“The Sierra Club regards this plan as unacceptable and not based on sound science,” said Murphy. “The WGFD needs to manage wolves state-wide and no unregulated killing should be allowed. In other words, there shouldn’t be a predator zone.”
Murphy also stated that the flex zone corridor for genetic interchange was not acceptable.
“Wolf dispersal is not restricted by arbitrary boundaries and wolves do not check the calendar to plan their dispersal,” stated Murphy. “This plan is not sufficiently different from the previously rejected plan.”
He also commented that the benefits of the wolf populations are largely overlooked, saying that wolves provide direct economic and ecological benefit to the region.
Other opposition to the proposed rule included Chris Colligan of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Pete Gosar.
Colligan opened his comments saying, “I came tonight and tried to keep an open mind. I wanted to hear more about the biology supporting the flex area. I think that the seasonal flex zone proposal will not adequately protect Wyoming wolves.”
“We think FWS should consider withdrawing the proposed rule and coming back to reopen negotiations for a larger trophy game area,” added Colligan. “I think this plan will harm continued recovery of wolves.”
Gosar appealed to the mission of the FWS, stating, “I am in favor of wolf management. However, I would like to see the management done by those who are trained professionals. I urge the FWS to reject this and rewrite the rule using thorough and objective science.”
The hearing was the only hearing scheduled for Wyoming, as the FWS received no requests from the public for additional hearings throughout the state. The comment period for the proposed delisting rule closes Jan. 13, 2012.
Comments may be submitted by hard copy to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2011-0039, Division of Policy and Directive Mgt. USFWS, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, VA 22203, or electronically at regulations.gov, docket number FWS-R6-ES-2011-0039. Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.