Park County board tangles with wolf issues

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.


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