Wyoming: Governor signs wolf, wildlife bills

Caspar Star-Tribune capital bureau


CHEYENNE, WYOMING-- Wyoming can't prevent lawsuits over the federal government's reintroduction of endangered species, but two new laws anticipate and prepare for them, Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Tuesday.

House Bill 229 , about a wolf management plan, and SF 97 , to assert Wyoming's ownership of its wildlife, put the state in a strong legal position, Freudenthal said after signing these bills into law.

"We fashioned these bills in a manner which is intended to put us in the strongest possible position with regard to litigation," he said. "I have no illusions about preventing litigation, but I do have significant hope that we will prevail in that litigation," he said.

In a related matter, the U.S. Department of Interior informally has told Wyoming that it is willing to work with the state to develop its wolf management plan, Freudenthal said.

The federal government has had more time to consider the management plan after last week, when Interior officials expressed concerns to Wyoming officials about labeling the wolf a "predatory animal."

Previous correspondence from Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials indicated that HB 229 was acceptable.

HB 22 9 's sponsor, Rep. Mike Baker, R-Thermopolis, said Tuesday that Wyoming needed a legally defensible bill to reach a point to delist the wolf from the Endangered Species List.

Since reintroduction in 1995 in Yellowstone National Park, wolf numbers have risen to higher numbers than the federal government expected, Baker said.

The House and Senate resisted efforts to make political statements with the bill, he said.

"We fought successfully to keep the bill clean," he said, referring to now-deleted language about "trashing of the feds."

It sets up a "dual classification" so wolves would remain protected in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. In neighboring wilderness areas, wolves would be classified as trophy game allowing them to be killed during a hunting season.

Outside those areas, wolves would be classified as predatory animals, giving residents the right to shoot them at any time.

Environmentalists and others have criticized the plan because hunting of wolves as predators might lead to a population decline again and relisting under the Endangered Species Act.

Some people have sent Freudenthal e-mails that implied that HB 229 will lead to "open season" statewide on wolves.

"I know it to be a significant distortion of what 229 is," he said.

After he signed HB 229 , Freudenthal turned to SF 97 and its sponsor, Sen. Delaine Roberts, R-Etna.

While Baker hopes HB 229 will be defensible with the federal government, Roberts wants SF 97 to take the offense.

"I'm in hopes (of) the possibility of litigation on Senate File 97 , that we can bring things to the surface and maybe resolve some of the problems that happened to our endangered species that have had quite an effect on our wildlife," Roberts said.

The federal government needs to understand that Wyoming owns and manages its wildlife, he said. "We're never going to be able to manage it if we can't manage the wolf and other endangered species."

Two weeks ago, Roberts amended his bill after concerns that its original strident tone would prompt a veto.

SF 97 still directs the attorney general "to prepare a plan for potential litigation to mitigate detrimental impacts to the state from the introduction, propagation or management of any wildlife species, including endangered species, by the federal government within the boundaries of the state."

Freudenthal said the Department of Interior does not understand that its policies affect wildlife, agriculture, and even someone who wants to jog, he said.

"Those costs are never accounted for in federal policy-making," Freudenthal said. "It is my hope that this legislation will give us the opportunity to try to emphasize to the federal government in maybe the only way they understand, which is money."

Both HB 229 and SF 97 take effect immediately.

However, Patricia Dowd of the 1,000-member Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club still expressed doubts about the two bills.

"In terms of establishing a management plan, it shows Wyoming will only do the bare minimum to get to delisting," she said. "Rather than looking at science and data, they've relied on politics to pass these pieces of legislation."

The management plan continues to walk a fine line of whether dual classification is acceptable for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dowd said.

The Legislature and its management plan should have adopted a single trophy game classification for the wolf statewide, she said.

"I can sympathize with the ranchers and the outfitters," Dowd said. "But wolves should have and deserve a place in Wyoming."


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