Park County board tangles with wolf issues
By MIKE STARK
Billings Gazette Wyoming Bureau
CODY, Wyo. -- Park County officials continue to seethe in frustration
over the prospect of having wolves in their midst, especially in places
where local business and agricultural operations are affected.
The three-member board of commissioners vowed Tuesday to approve their
third resolution with concerns about the future of wolf management
in the region.
Tim Morrison, the commission's chairman, called for the resolution,
saying he was spurred by a recent television special about predators
in the northern Rocky Mountains.
The voice of local communities, including Park County, isn't getting
much attention, but the effects of wolves are real, he said. Farmers
and agricultural producers have lost livestock or suffered other losses
because of wolves, Morrison said.
"It has put a new stress level on people that have to rely on
forests that they have not had in the past," Morrison said.
The commissioners said they would send a letter to the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, which is reviewing wolf management plans from Wyoming,
Montana and Idaho. The plans would take effect if the federal government
decides to remove wolves from the endangered species list.
The Wyoming plan has drawn fire -- as well as doubts from federal
officials -- because it would classify wolves in two ways: as trophy
game if they're in the national parks or designated wilderness areas,
and as predators everywhere else in the state. Predator designation
would allow them to be killed any time and by any means.
The Park County officials said they strongly backed the dual classification
approach and said they wanted even tighter restrictions on wolves
than is established in Wyoming's plan.
Commissioner Tim French said he'd like to see the plan reflect the
intent of the state Legislature, which earlier this year set out stricter
guidelines on where trophy game wolves could roam.
"I would just like (Wyoming) Game and Fish to follow the Legislature's
will," he said.
The commissioners said they were particularly concerned that the proposed
plan could allow wolves to come closer to Cody and Meeteetse.
"It's not just federal land, it's on private land," said
Marie Fontaine, another commissioner.
Morrison worried that relying on hunting wolves classified as trophy
game won't be enough to control the population.
"If they're just trophy game, they'd never be managed. They'd
grow, grow," he said.
Already, some local producers are packing firearms into areas where
they have cattle or other operations, he said.
"We cannot have wolves threatening people (who are) going into
wilderness areas," he said.
They worried that the wolf population would continue to grow and continue
to cause problems.
Federal officials earlier this week said the wolf population is leveling
out, with its growth rate slowing from 15 percent last year to 11
percent this year. Eventually, wolf experts expect the population
to be limited by where they're welcomed and where they're not.
A dozen wolf experts are reviewing the wolf plans submitted by the
three states. They're expected to decide by Nov. 1 whether all three
will guarantee a sustained wolf population in the three states.
If not, state officials will get direction about how to improve their
plans so they pass muster. Once the plans are approved, the federal
government can begin the process of removing federal protections.
But French -- who emphasized that locals never wanted wolves to be
reintroduced here -- said he simply wants the delisting decision to
be made. The process, he said, has been dragged out long enough.
"Let's just do it and get on with it," French said.