Wyoming's wolf plan has feds growling - Conflicts over state's law may keep animals on the endangered list says federal wildlife official

By Becky Bohrer, Associated Press
Rocky Mountain News

July 11, 2003

BILLINGS, Mont. - A federal wildlife official says Wyoming's proposal for managing gray wolves is minimally adequate but inconsistent with state law, and reconciling the differences - mainly by limiting the hunting of wolves - could delay removing the predators in the northern Rockies from the federal endangered species list.

"There will be no delisting until the legislature clarifies" how wolves will be classified under Wyoming law, federal wolf-recovery coordinator Ed Bangs said this week.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers gray wolves recovered in the northern Rockies, eight years after they were reintroduced to the region. The agency plans to hand over management responsibilities to the three states where the wolves roam - Wyoming, Montana and Idaho - once they adopt acceptable proposals for maintaining the population.

In a recent letter to Wyoming's Game and Fish Department director, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it has concerns that the department's wolf-management proposal - still in draft form - could not be implemented under a law passed earlier this year by the Wyoming legislature.

Among the differences between the proposal and the state law cited in the letter is the distribution of wolves in Wyoming.

The plan, according to the letter, calls for maintaining at least 15 packs in Wyoming, at least seven of which must be outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The Fish and Wildlife Service believes the law is open to interpretation when it comes to distribution levels.

Another issue is how wolves would be regulated for hunting. The law classifies wolves outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton and their adjacent wilderness areas as simple predators, on par with coyotes, and allows them to be killed virtually without restriction. Bangs said the hunting of wolves will have to be more tightly restricted.

Because the proposal and law have differences, "there is a concern with the service proceeding with the delisting process unless state law unambiguously authorizes implementation of a state wolf-management plan that will conserve wolves above recovery levels," said the letter signed by Bangs.

The legislature, which won't convene again until this winter, may be asked to do "some tweaking," said Bill Wichers, deputy director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

"I would assume, at this point in time, it is very likely there will be a bill proposed to make some changes," he said, noting that department officials have informally discussed that with select lawmakers.

Game and Fish officials provided an early draft of their plan to the Fish and Wildlife Service and other interested parties - agricultural and environmental groups among them - for comment. A final draft is expected soon, and the state Game and Fish Department is set to consider the plan later this month.

Wichers said changes are being made to the draft - most dealing with semantics but some with "content," though he declined to be more specific.

Bangs said the current proposal is adequate - "the minimum" - but a lesser plan would not suffice. He said a decision by the Game and Fish Department and whether it is consistent with the law will be key to determining what the next step in the process will be.

Officials in Idaho have prepared a plan, and Montana's, while not final, looks good, Bangs said.

"The ball's kind of in Wyoming's court on this one," he said.


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