Clock running down for wolf legislation
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Time is getting short in the current Wyoming legislative session for any action to resolve a dispute between the state and the federal government over wolf management.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year proposed creation of a permanent wolf management area in northwestern Wyoming. But top state officials say they are still waiting for the federal agency to agree to allow the state to kill some wolves to keep them from depleting state elk herds in the immediate future before they consider the federal plan.”If we could arrive at a workable arrangement, I think both the legislative and executive branch are interested in pursuing it,” Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Friday. “But I think the continued rigidity of the federal government makes you wonder if they really want it to happen.”Although bills are pending in both the House and Senate that could be used to put any wolf management agreement into state law, legislative leaders say any such measure would have to be in its final form no later than Feb. 12.Freudenthal and other state officials say they need guarantees that the federal management plan won’t leave the state paralyzed in the time between when the federal government takes action to remove wolves from protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act and when litigation over that action is completed. State officials say that period could last several years, and that the growing wolf population could devastate elk and moose herds during that time if the state’s not allowed to kill wolves as necessary.Once litigation over the federal action is completed, Wyoming would be able to control the wolf population through trophy hunting provided wolf numbers don’t drop too low.State officials say there are more than 300 wolves in the state with the population growing at about 20 percent a year. In its proposal for a permanent wolf management area, the Fish and Wildlife Service has said the state would be responsible for maintaining at least 10 breeding pairs, totaling at least 100 wolves.Although the federal agency has approved wolf management plans in Montana and Idaho, it rejected Wyoming’s original management plan in 2004. The state has sued over the issue in federal court and the litigation is still pending.Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank has proposed the Fish and Wildlife Service enter into a binding agreement, called a consent decree, within the state’s existing lawsuit against the federal agency. He said that agreement could spell out what actions the state could take to kill wolves while the anticipated litigation over removing wolves from federal protection runs its course.Crank said Friday that he’s continuing to call federal attorneys seeking a response to his proposal. He said he’s emphasizing to them that the state is under strict time limits because of the legislative schedule.”They need to get us an answer on how we can protect our wildlife, pending their proposed delisting,” Crank said. “I haven’t got any answer yet.”Sharon Rose, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, said Friday that Mitch King, regional director for the agency, is working on a response to the state proposal.”Internally we’re working on it,” Rose said. “We don’t have any response to put out. We know that Wyoming has asked us the question, and we hope to get back to them.”House Speaker Roy Cohee, R-Casper, and Senate President John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, wrote to Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Jan. 25.”It is our belief that no modification of Wyoming law will occur without the ability to protect our wildlife herds from the effects of an overpopulation of wolves,” the state lawmakers wrote. “We must emphasize that time is of the essence if there is any hope of modification of Wyoming law during this legislative session.”Cohee said Friday he has received no response from Hall. “Just continuing delay from the federal government,” Cohee said.The Fish and Wildlife Service announced Jan. 29 that it hopes to remove about 1,200 wolves in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana from the federal endangered and threatened species list within a year. However, the federal agency said that if it’s unable to resolve the current standoff with Wyoming over wolf management, it’s prepared to move forward without the state.Freudenthal said he sees problems with the federal agency’s suggestion that it could lift federal protections for wolves in the other states while leaving them in place in Wyoming.If the population indeed is large enough in the two other states and Yellowstone National Park to justify taking wolves off the federal threatened and endangered species list, Freudenthal said, “it strengthens the notion that we should be able to have more management authority outside the parks.”
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