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Wolves

According to Steve Ferrell of Governor Mead’s office, the bill that spells out the revised Wyoming wolf management plan has been accepted by the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Interim Committee and will appear before the full Wyoming Legislature.
    Ferrell says work continues on Tier 2 of the plan, but the original tier that was written by the Attorney General’s Office, himself and the Legislative Services Office, which made the statutes compliant with the terms of the agreement, remains.
    “The amendments we’re working on now are housekeeping, to make the statutes more defensible to litigation,” he says.
    “Ideally, we would have had the statutes done before the rules and before the plan, but the reason we have the cart before the horse is because the Fish and Wildlife Service needed an approvable wolf plan to start their rulemaking process, and if we’d done it the traditional way we wouldn’t hunt wolves until 2013 – this cuts a whole year off,” explains Ferrell.
    The Fish and Wildlife Service’s comment period on the plan ends Jan. 13, and after that the agency will wait to see if the Wyoming Legislature ratifies the agreement without substantial change.
    “If there is, there will be a do-over,” says Ferrell. “They’ll pull their delisting rule, and we’ll probably start from scratch. If there are changes made, the question will be if they’re substantive. The Service will err on the side of caution to avoid litigation.”
    Ferrell says he’s put much effort into preparing Wyoming’s legislators for a decision on the wolf plan.
    “I’ve been spending almost all my time since the agreement going around the state and visiting with every legislator to make sure they’re making an informed decision when the legislation is heard in a short budget session,” he notes.
    “We continue to shore up the legislation to be defensible against litigation, and I’ve been in constant contact with the staff of the three Wyoming delegates. The Governor wants protection from judicial review as part of the package, and Idaho and Montana have it. We’d like to have it, too, but it’s not likely to happen before the legislative session starts.”
    Ferrell says advice from all three staffs is to not ask legislators to make their approval conditional on a Congressional protection.
    “We’ve got a good agreement – maybe better than anyone expected. If we do that, more than likely we’ll start from scratch at some point down the road. Their advice is not to ask legislature for Congressional protection as a term of their approval,” explains Ferrell.
    Ferrell cautions that another concern is that some people advocate for a sunset, or reset, button on the statute.
    “One of the issues that concerns me with that is the legislature would have a reset button every time they meet, and that might be seen as a lack of commitment from Wyoming,” says Ferrell.
    He says another concern about the sunset is that a litigant could delay the statute in court.
    “We might get to the sunset, and the plan would expire before it ever sees a chance at implementation because it was held up in the courts,” he explains.
    However, if things go as planned, Ferrell says, “We should see a delisting in Wyoming late next summer, and maybe as late as September. After the legislature is over the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will write their administrative rules, which will include a public process.”
    Steve Ferrell updated the Wyoming Stock Growers at their annual convention in December. Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

On March 6, Jennifer Houston, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), and Bob Skinner, president of the Public Lands Council (PLC), expressed their appreciation to the Department of Interior after an announcement that the agency will publish a gray wolf delisting rule in the Federal Register.

“The recovery of the gray wolf in the United States is a conservation success story. When the federal government collaborates with state wildlife officials and local land managers, it enhances our ability to protect the wildlife and ecosystems that we all cherish. This is exactly how the Endangered Species Act is supposed to work,” said Houston and Skinner. “Unfortunately, as ranchers know all too well, the current Endangered Species Act rarely functions as Congress originally intended.”

The pair continued, “Radical environmental activists use an endless cycle of lawsuits and procedural tricks to thwart effective conservation. That is why it has taken so long to delist the gray wolf, even though science has long shown the species had reached stable population levels. That is also why the Endangered Species Act’s overall effectiveness hovers at an abysmal rate of just two percent.”

“NCBA and PLC would like to commend Acting Secretary Bernhardt and his team for making this science-based decision,” Houston and Skinner said. “We look forward to continuing our work with the Department of Interior and state wildlife agencies as this process moves forward.”

The story of wolves in Wyoming is long and wrought with frustration for many, and following a late-September ruling to reverse the delisting decision, wolves were put back on the Endangered Species List. 

“The state of Wyoming does not have an approved plan to manage wolves based on the court decision,” says Mike Jimenez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wolf management and science coordinator. “It is unfortunately really ironic, because Wyoming was doing a good job managing wolves.”

Returning to 1994 10(j)

Jimenez explains that one of the frustrating aspects of wolves returning to endangered status is their management under the 1994 10(j) rule. 

Under the Endangered Species Act, species can be classified as fully endangered, threatened or nonessential experimental, he notes. 

“Wolves in Wyoming were always classified as a nonessential, experimental population,” he says. “They were never fully endangered, but they were on the Endangered Species List.”

The nonessential, experimental designation allowed more management flexibility for the FWS to remove wolves that caused problems to help ranchers protect their livestock, and in 1994, a 10(j) rule was written to allow FWS to do just that. The 10(j) rule allows for management of animals currently on the Endangered sSpecies List.

“It was very restrictive because we wanted to let populations grow,” Jimenez explains. “We weren’t going to have a lot of problems in the beginning because there weren’t very many wolves.”

Changes over time

Since 1994, Jimenez notes that wolf management has evolved and the 1994 10(j) rule was modified to accommodate changing populations.

“The 1994 10(j) is a restrictive rule,” Jimenez continues. “There were other amended 10(j) rules written in 2005 and 2008 that gave even more management flexibility, but Wyoming can’t use those amended 10(j) rules because they don’t have a FWS-approved management plan. So they are struck with the original 1994 rule.”

“When we had problems, we would allow ranchers to kill wolves or we would come in and get rid of wolves when we had to. It has worked reasonably well,” he says. “The population has done fine, and we have minimized problems.” 

However, conflicts and controversies haven’t necessarily been eliminated . 

“We have been allowed to protect livestock,” Jimenez says. “We have evolved over the past 15 years so that if wolves cause problems, we can address it.”

Recent ruling

Despite the adjustments that were made since 1994 to accommodate growing wolf populations, Jimenez says the court decision means the 10(j) rule from 1994 applies across Wyoming. 

“This is going to be frustrating,” he adds. 

Though the winter months are often quieter, Jimenez notes that the largest number of wolf conflicts occur in the mid- to late summer months when many cattle and sheep producers have their livestock on BLM and Forest Service allotments. 

“We will be very limited in what we can do regarding wolves killing livestock,” he says, “but we will do everything we can to resolve problems. It has always been our aim to help producers so they don’t have to pay the cost of wolves.”

Changes in management

Among changes in management, Jimenez notes that FWS can no longer issue shoot-on-sight permits to ranchers, as they have in the past. 

“Now, for a rancher to shoot a wolf, the wolf must be caught in the act of actually attacking livestock,” he says. “We haven’t ever had someone do this in the entire 30-year program.”

FWS can remove wolves that chronically kill livestock, but the wolf must be at least a second offender.

Jimenez emphasizes that the 1994 10(j) rule only considers horses, mules, cattle and sheep as livestock. Animals like working dogs, guard dogs and others are not considered livestock. Non-livestock animal deaths will not result in wolf removal.

“If a rancher sees wolves attacking their dogs, there isn’t much they can do,” he explains. “We can harass wolves, but we cannot shoot wolves.”

“We can’t remove wolves as aggressively as we used to,” Jimenez says. 

In addition, the “predator zone” for wolves has been removed. 

Working with producers

“I really appreciate that producers haven’t come at us during this frustrating time,” Jimenez says, noting that ranchers have been very understanding through the process. 

Today, Jimenez explains that FWS must meet a strict set of standards to remove wolves. 

If producers have issues with wolves, Jimenez urges them to call FWS or USDA Wildlife Services. 

“If a producer has dead livestock, they can call the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), who can investigate the kill,” he says. “WGFD can be involved with livestock kills but not wolf management. We are trying to keep them as involved as much as possible.”

Moving forward

Jimenez also notes that FWS is looking forward to resolving the challenges that are associated with wolves. 

“Some people are looking at congressional fixes, like in Montana and Idaho,” Jimenez says. “In Wyoming, the state has also appealed the ruling. FWS did not appeal the decision.”

FWS also continues to do monitoring and genetic sampling, as before. 

“We don’t want producers to be caught up on the outside of all of this,” he adds. “They are just trying to protect their livestock.”

“Many people are frustrated, but they want to understand the rules and what to do,” Jimenez says. “If producers have problems, I would encourage them to let us know so we can advise people on how to react.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Wyoming won’t have new wolf legislation in ‘09
Cheyenne — Changes won’t be made to Wyoming’s wolf statutes this session following a 52 to seven vote on HB32 in the Wyoming House on Feb. 11.
    Prior to the legislation’s failure Representative Keith Gingery (R-Jackson) attempted to amend the legislation to create trophy game classification statewide.
    Representative Kermit Brown (R-Laramie) strongly opposed statewide trophy game classification. Brown said he is unwilling to compromise Wyoming’s system of dual classification through which wolves would be managed as predators in parts of the state and as trophy game in a defined area of northwest Wyoming. “Can we really visualize wolves frolicking in the corn fields in Goshen County?” asked Brown during floor debates. “Why would Goshen County ever be a place where a wolf would be afforded trophy game status?”
    Gingery argued that statewide game classification would better position Wyoming to defend itself when the wolf issue returns to court. As Brown mentioned the need for agreement on the issue among constituent groups Gingery stated, “It doesn’t matter what they think, what matters is the law.” He said, “The ESA is the law. We’re supposed to write a plan that meets that law.” Gingery said he doesn’t believe Wyoming can prevail in the court of law given its current course of action.
    Brown said a change to statewide trophy game classification wouldn’t make Wyoming’s plan more defensible. He also questioned whether it was the ESA or the most recent rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which was withdrawn by the Obama Administration before it could be published, that Wyoming would be responding to. “It’s the height of naivety to say we’d be permitted to do that,” said Brown of statewide trophy game classification under which the Game and Fish could designate special management areas. “The Game and Fish is not going to be able to designate trophy game statewide and then carve out areas.” He said the court case would continue but “the name of the defendant just changes in the lawsuit.”
    Brown said Wyoming’s existing plan was peer reviewed by 11 scientists, 10 of whom supported its ability to maintain a viable wolf population long-term. “We can win in court and give away the farm, but I don’t think anyone wants to do that,” said Brown. He said Wyoming was winning in the courtroom prior to withdrawing its case and striking a delisting compromise with the FWS.
    Moving forward Brown believes there are aspects of Wyoming’s plan that can be strengthened to better position the state for the inevitable lawsuit. “There’s no urgency,” he said, noting the recent change in administrations. “We don’t know what the standard is going to be.”
    “It was the right thing to do,” said Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna following the defeat of HB32. “In one way it’s unfortunate that we can’t work with the federal agencies to pass legislation, but at this time to change our current plan is just shooting darts in the dark. We don’t know what the current administration is going to do. We don’t even know the players yet. It would be premature.”
    Wyoming Wool Growers Executive Vice President Bryce Reece was thankful the legislature resisted statewide trophy game classification. He said it’s a decision “that would have put people out of business. The legislators understand the ramifications of what’s at stake.”
    While Magagna said it’s inevitable that the wolf issue will return to the courts, he said, “I don’t believe it can at this time. Nothing out there at this time lends itself to litigation because there’s not a decision and the decision of the Bush Administration to partially delist has been pulled back. There’s nothing we can appeal on until there’s a new decision.”
    “I think it’s a matter of patience right now,” said Magagna. “We need to sit back and see what direction the administration takes. There’s no doubt in my mind that at some point down the road we’re going to find ourselves in court again whether Wyoming makes that decision or others pull us into court. I think it’s just inevitable.”
    Magagna said it will be interesting to see if wolf management becomes a topic of interim study. Until the decisions are made at the federal level he said there’s little to begin discussing.
    Representative Pat Childers (R-Cody) said broader consideration for species beyond wolves on the part of the federal government is needed. “They are the Fish and Wildlife Service, not the Fish and Wolf Service as our Governor has stated,” said Childers. “They need to look at wildlife beyond wolves.”
    “We have a right to sit down with them when they’re deciding what to do not after the fact,” said Childers. He said Wyoming has not had a seat at the decision making table for the past 10 years.
    “I’m certainly appreciative of the many legislative leaders involved in this issue who were willing to work with us and hear our concerns,” said Magagna. “The process we have gone through the last four or five months since the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee first started looking at wolf legislation, has been a good open process. I like the result and how the process had been handled in general.”
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne – When Wyoming Wolf Coalition attorney Harriet Hageman asked those she represented in the federal courtroom to stand, well over half of the audience rose to their feet.
Hageman was one of several lawyers presenting arguments Jan. 29 in Cheyenne in the State of Wyoming, Park County and Wyoming Wolf Coalition litigation against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding the federal management of the gray wolf in Wyoming.
In the press conference at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association headquarters following the hearing, Hageman said that physical representation of Wyoming’s agriculture and sportsman community made an impact on U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson.
“That view was worth more than I could say,” said Hageman, thanking the audience for their interest, dedication and involvement.
In the two-hour hearing Wyoming’s lawyers made their case for why the FWS should delist the wolf and turn over the predator’s management to the state.
The points emphasized in the arguments from both sides included whether Wyoming is counting too heavily on eight breeding pairs in Yellowstone National Park, whether Wyoming’s trophy game area is sufficient to protect a recovered wolf population while providing “genetic connectivity” and the legislative intent of Wyoming’s wolf management plan.
But Hageman said in her opening statement there was only one question before FWS, the state and the court. “That is this: does Wyoming’s wolf management plan protect a wolf population at or above recovery numbers?”
“We can argue about specifics and particular numbers, whether the Big Horns are habitat, about the fact that maybe it’s not quite fair that Wyoming can count Yellowstone wolves, whether there should be wolves in Natrona County or wolves in Crook County. None of that matters,” she said. “There’s one question – does the wolf management plan protect a recovered wolf population?”
Wyoming Deputy Attorney General Jay Jerde, who represented the State, emphasized there’s a significant difference between this litigation in Wyoming and the wolf lawsuit in Montana.
“The first delisting rule in 2003 was challenged with the lawsuit filed in Montana,” said Jerde. “The Montana court issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the delisting rule, and the Service used that as an excuse to step away from it, change position and decide the Wyoming plan is no longer good.”
Hageman commented, “It was illegal, unreasonable, contrary to science and a violation of the Endangered Species Act for the defendants, the Fish and Wildlife Service, to reject the Wyoming wolf management plan.”
There are currently an estimated 1,650 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The recovery goal was 300 wolves evenly distributed between the three.
Michael Eitel, lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice defending FWS, suggested natural threats like disease and human-caused mortality warrant a need for management above more than 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves in the state’s borders.
When asked by Judge Johnson what the target is, if it’s not the 15/150 number, Eitel said it’s a “discretionary instance,” pointing to Idaho and Montana who manage for 700 and 300 wolves, respectively.
He expressed concern that Wyoming estimates eight breeding pairs in Yellowstone National Park, which has supported fewer in the last several years. “Fish and Wildlife determined with the aggressive control down to seven pairs outside the Park, and the Park not likely to maintain eight pairs, 15 total pairs in Wyoming is not likely to be met,” said Eitel.
Wyoming lawyers contended the management plan says Wyoming will manage for seven breeding pairs outside the Park, and more when necessary to maintain the 15/150 number.
Eitel also stated, “The trophy game area is too small because of the effects of mortality in the predatory animal area. Wyoming’s scheme manages the population down to minimum levels and relies on Yellowstone to carry the majority of the population.”
Wyoming’s lawyers said there is no biological evidence that the current trophy game area couldn’t maintain the needed wolf population, and that there is no biological or legal reason for statewide trophy classification.
Eitel also said, referring to the genetic connectivity concept, that wolves need to disperse south of Jackson – and outside the trophy game area – to reach the Idaho population. He said any farther north the Tetons were a barrier to the West and that Yellowstone corridors are “saturated” by the resident wolf population.
Wyoming Wool Growers Executive Vice President Bryce Reece said in the post-hearing press conference, “First we heard we had a problem in Yellowstone because it only had six breeding pairs, but we need the wolves to go south because Yellowstone is so ‘saturated.’ Apparently saturated is six pairs in two million acres.”
Hageman asked how much more contiguous one can get than Yellowstone Park with Montana and Idaho. “This epitomizes the straws the Service has grasped at to attack a viable, scientific and biological management plan that will protect wolves.”
“The reason predator status is so significant to Wyoming, and the people sitting in this room, is that it has do with the ability to control a dangerous, vicious predator that lives on their livelihood,” said Hageman. “Without predator control in areas of Wyoming outside the trophy game area we will not be able to protect wildlife, livestock, citizens and the other interests we have in this state.”
However, Eitel maintained that prolonged human-caused mortality cannot be survived by wolves. “The future conservation of the gray wolf depends almost solely on state regulation of human-caused mortality,” he said.
“We will kill wolves, that’s parts of the deal,” said Hageman. “It was never part of the deal to have unlimited wolves in this state. I find it shocking when we have a minimum of 1,600 wolves that we don’t have Fish and Wildlife apologizing for creating the fiasco we have because they’ve refused to properly manage them.”
“Wyoming has done what was requested 20 years ago. It’s tolerated a predator, protected it and provided food,” said Hageman. “We are willing to make sure we protect a recovered wolf population. That doesn’t mean 1,000, 1,500 or 800, but 15 and 150, as they defined it.”
Regarding the timeline for a decision by the Court, Hageman said it could be weeks, months or longer, but added, “I’m going to walk away from today saying that we won.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..