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February 10, 2009 4:44 am

Wyoming House sketching wolf bill

Written by Tribune Staff

A Wyoming House of Representatives committee has killed four of five wolf-related bills. The sole surviving one, House Bill 32, would retain most of the predator zone in Wyoming and protect domestic and wild ungulates from wolves. It also would help ensure genetic connectivity of Wyoming wolves with those in the region, if the federal government delists wolves in Wyoming.

“HB 32 will have amendments to make it respond as much as possible to the shortcomings Judge (Donald) Molloy found in Wyoming's wolf management plan,” said Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell.

“There is even a provision to seek a memorandum of understanding with Montana and Idaho to cooperate in the capture, transport, exchange and release of wolves in and out of the trophy game area to assure genetic interchange among the populations of the three states.”

Molloy, in U.S. District Court, granted a temporary injunction against delisting wolves last summer, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed wolves back on the Endangered Species List in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

In its 11th hour, the Bush administration moved to get wolves off endangered status in Idaho and Montana, while keeping the federal government in charge in Wyoming. But the new administration has postponed any delisting in the tri-state region.

Molloy was concerned that, if wolves cannot connect with other wolves in Yellowstone Park and around the three states, biological connectivity would suffer.

The 12 conservation groups that filed a suit last spring also had misgivings about the predator zone that covered roughly 90 percent of Wyoming.

“The only criticism that wasn't addressed is the dual status for wolves in the Wyoming plan,” Bonner said. “HB 32 continues to provide for a trophy zone in the northwest corner of the state and predator status outside the boundaries of the trophy game zone.”

“Overall, I don't see how this bill met the concerns of Judge Molloy,” said Franz Camenzind, executive director of Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

The alliance is one of the conservation groups that filed the lawsuit last spring, which ultimately got wolves placed back on endangered status.

Camenzind called the proposal to transport, exchange and release wolves between the three states “pickup-truck connectivity,” meaning artificial migration of wolves. And, Camenzind asked, would the U.S. Park Service or Montana and Idaho be interested in swapping wolves with Wyoming?

“If you have to have these wolves basically attached to life support,” Camenzind said, “they're not recovered.”

About 2,000 wolves live in Yellowstone and outside of the park's boundaries in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Camenzind said 300-350 live in Wyoming.

Camenzind said he would not recommend to the alliance board to support HB 32.

If a bill was penned to accommodate for genetic connectivity, removing the predator zone and full wolf-carrying capacity, not minimum carrying capacity, he would recommend the bill to his board, said Camenzind.

But it is darned if you do and darned if you don't, at least in some Wyoming legislators' opinions.

“Wyoming will be in court with this bill, as it will if nothing is done,” Bonner said. “In fact, HB 32 bids Wyoming to petition for a hearing in a Wyoming Federal Court to review the new mechanisms that the state is presenting. I don't know if anything will pass. There is some sentiment for standing pat.”

Environmental groups already are contesting delisting in Idaho and Montana, said Del McOmie, R-Lander.

“I contend wolves are going to be settled in court,” McOmie said.

The sooner wolves head back to court, the sooner the wolf debate will be resolved, McOmie said.

The bill has yet to reach the House floor and is by no means a done deal.

The bill may still come up, said Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody.

Childers is the chairman of House Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee that sponsored the bill.

“An amendment is being drafted that is somewhat different to address the judge's concerns and still meet our concerns,” Childers said.

Under HB 32, producers would be given some teeth with the issuance of annual lethal take permits to clamp down on chronic predation or harassment of stock by wolves. But those producers would be muzzled if wolf numbers dropped below 15 breeding pairs within the state, by suspending or canceling those permits.