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Cheney launches new effort to delist wolves

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and representatives from Wisconsin and Minnesota introduced a bipartisan wolf bill that would remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act list and nix litigation following delisting. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and representatives from Wisconsin and Minnesota introduced a bipartisan wolf bill that would remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act list and nix litigation following delisting. Photo courtesy Eric Cole, U.S. Fish Wildlife and Service

Wolves are making headlines again, or at least their champions and adversaries are.    

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, and fellow congressmen from Wisconsin and Minnesota introduced a bill on Jan. 10 that would remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act list. The measure would also outlaw any lawsuits aimed at returning the animal to the Endangered Species list.

“Wyoming should be able to manage the gray wolf without outside interference,” Cheney, who took office on Jan. 3, said in a statement. “This bill will stop the ‘management by litigation’ culture that has done so much damage to our state.”

Similar attempts were made to delist gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes through provisions inserted into the 2015 budget bill and a 2016 energy bill, but neither rider passed Congress.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously determined the gray wolf populations in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region no longer required the level of protection required by the ESA, Cheney said.

Wolves were removed from the list in Wyoming for a couple of years, but a U.S. District Court rejected Wyoming’s wolf management plan and restored federal protections in 2014. Cheney’s bill comes as the State of Wyoming waits to hear whether the U.S. Court of Appeals will overturn that 2014 decision.

Timothy Preso, Earthjustice managing attorney in Bozeman, Montana, argued on behalf of the Defenders of Wildlife and asked the appeals court to uphold the lower court’s decision at a September hearing.

Preso said enacting Cheney’s wolf bill would be a free pass from Congress, granting Wyoming wolf management without changes to its plan.

Wyoming would be managing the species now if the predator zone wasn’t part of its plan, said Chris Colligan, Greater Yellowstone Coalition wildlife program coordinator in Jackson. The proposed predator zone covers 85 percent of the state — basically everything except the northwest corner — and allows wolves to be shot on sight.

While controversial, the predator zone was not the reason that U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson struck down Wyoming’s plan in 2014;  in fact, she actually affirmed that the zone was OK. What prompted the Washington, D.C., judge to strike down the plan was her finding that Wyoming’s promises to maintain a certain number of wolves were not legally binding.

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., supports the new delisting bill, said Max D’Onofrio, Enzi’s press secretary.

“It was unfortunate that despite the excellent work by stakeholders to develop a state management plan for gray wolves in Wyoming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was forced to comply with the court’s decision to reinstate protections under the Endangered Species Act,” D’Onofrio said.

He added that, “It is important that members of Congress work together to pass legislation that not only removes the endangered species listing but protects against additional judicial activism.”

Livestock growers, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and hunters also want wolves delisted, said Tim Hockhalter, who sits on the Park County Predator Management Advisory Board and is a Cody area outfitter.

“I think we need to hunt them,” Hockhalter said. “We need to trap them, too.”

Wyoming had wolf management and allowed hunting from September 2012 to September 2014, he noted.

“The wolf quota was very conservative,” Hockhalter said.

Brian Nesvik, Game and Fish chief of wildlife in Cheyenne, said the state managed the animals well during that time.

“We have long held that wolves have been recovered for quite some time,” Nesvik said, adding, “The wolf population continues to do quite well.”

By the numbers

There were an estimated 382 wolves in Wyoming in 2015, according to the Wyoming Wolf Recovery 2015 annual report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Game and Fish, Wind River Indian Reservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services. The count was 333 in 2014.

In 2015 wolves killed 134 head of livestock in Wyoming, according to the report. In 2014 they killed 62 head.

Some wolves are more prone to killing livestock, Nesvik said. More livestock are killed when the wolf population is higher.

The 2016 total should be completed in the next month, said Tyler Abbott, Fish and Wildlife deputy field supervisor for Wyoming Ecological Services field office in Cheyenne. “We’re in the process of compiling the data right now.”

Pass or fail

Preso said it is unknown whether Cheney’s bill will pass.

The State of Wyoming is allowing the interests of a few to trump the interests of many, Preso said. With the predator zone covering 85 percent of the state, that leaves the remaining 15 percent for wolf management to maintain 100 wolves, including 10 breeding pairs. To date, the state has not reconsidered the predator zone designation.

Wyoming’s wolf management plan was designed with the state’s people and livestock industry in mind, Nesvik said.

“We strongly believe that wolf management belongs in the hands of the state,” he said.

Preso said that people are legally hunting wolves in Montana because it has no predator zone.

He said he recognizes that Game and Fish employees are competent wildlife managers, but said the department has no jurisdiction in the predator zone.

Delisting wolves in Wyoming would have minimal impact on Yellowstone wolves as long as hunting and management are regulated, said Doug Smith, Yellowstone Wolf Project leader.

In 2009, four wolves that lived mostly in Yellowstone were legally harvested just north of the park in Montana, according to a 2015 National Park Service paper. At the time, the four animals constituted 3 percent of the park’s 137 wolves. That had no impact on population growth, but the animals were from the Cottonwood Creek pack and the surviving six members of the pack were never seen again.

In 2012, 12 wolves that primarily lived within Yellowstone were harvested in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, according to the report. “These wolves constituted 12 percent of the 98 wolves living primarily in YNP, but their removal had little to no apparent effect on the population growth rate.”


President-elect Donald Trump has picked Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., as his interior secretary. Being from Montana, Zinke is familiar with Wyoming’s wolves, Hockhalter said. “He knows what’s going on.”

Trump will update the ESA and push to get more animals off the list, Hockhalter said. “You’re going to see something happen.”

Hunting is simply a management tool, Hockhalter said. And, wolves are a canny animal, they’re not easy to harvest.

“If we just get them delisted, that’s a start,” Hockhalter said.

Few people in this country can enjoy viewing wildlife like bears, elk, wolves, etc., which Earthjustice does not take for granted, Preso said. “For many people it’s a treasure.”

The predator zone needs to go, he said. “We’re going to stand firm with what everybody cares about.”


  • posted by Deb

    February 18, 2017 4:40 am

    Learn to live with wolves!

  • posted by Anne lear

    February 16, 2017 7:32 am

    One need only recall the Yellowstone study. The natural balance was horribly disrupted when the wolves were absent. The negative impact on an ecosystem which was lacking an apex predator was immense. Now that the wolves are back and healthy, all the observed disruption has begun to right itself.
    The loss o f livestock comes with the territory when man impacts the environment by grazing large herds and moving into the wolf's natural hunting ground.
    We as a species are very presumptuous to think that we know better than nature!

  • posted by Henrietta Abeyta

    January 20, 2017 8:17 pm

    No Liz don't even think about taking an effort on something that'll aggravate the ecosystem especially with how careless about climate change Donald Trump is!!!!!!!!!!!! LET THE WOLVES LIVE!!! SERIOUSLY CLIMATE OR ECOSYSTEM the planet would absolutely weaken quickly if Rep. congress refuse to concentrate! And clearly Donald Trump doesn't care if it's an animal or a human he's hurting the feelings of with his horrible extremely ruthless offense!!!!!!

    The red wolves are in horrible trouble on the east side of our country and the coywolves are because of how much poaching humans have senselessly done!!!!! Don't make our selfish invasion worse for the lovely wise wolves, LET THE WOLVES STAY PROTECTED, pushing the wild animals further and further in is quite mean!!!! Ethiopian wolves need all the help they can get if Africa doesn't want wild cats to be its only predators who stay on land, and African Wild Dogs need help too! The wolves and their closest cousins around the world who live in the wild eat a larger diet of the animals who'd really weaken the planet. Herbivores would cause damage JUST SLOWER THAN BUGS BUT IT WOULD STILL HAPPEN!!! SAVE THE WOLVES!!!!!

    Even the deserts of our country would be better with small packs of wolves in a few areas Liz, ADMIT THE NUMBER OF RODENTS WHO HIDE IN THE DESERT, ADMIT IT!!!!


    The wise wolf isn't the problem NO, HUMANS BEING TOTALLY IMPATIENT WHILE THEY COMPLETELY MISUNDERSTAND THE WOLVES' LANGUAGE IS THE REAL PROBLEM!!!!!!!!!!!!! DOGS SHARE THE SAME BODY LANGUAGE however the FACIAL EXPRESSIONS wolves show are misunderstood!!!!!!!! The unknown fact is like your domestic dog, the wolf sniffs and then copies you, it depends on what you're expressing within you how you'll see the wolf act, so NEVER LET YOUR FEAR EAT YOU!

    Alphas don't want to fight they wish to live up to their potential and protect their pack!!!! Alphas don't try to chase us when we're in helicopters stealing their pups NO they're trying to say may I have my pups back please feeling worried and lonely!!! IT'S TRUE THAT WOLVES HAVE PRUDENCE!!!!!! Who wants weakness in a family to increase NO ONE!!!!!! SCIENTISTS AND ARCHANGELS PLEASE WATCH OVER THE WOLVES, AND TEACH THEIR HORRIBLE HUMAN FOES WHAT THEY NEED TO START CONTROLLING WITHIN THEMSELVES!!!!

  • posted by AD

    January 20, 2017 5:58 am

    Why does governmental agencies manage the lives of other living beings anyway? Humans have no population control. Manage that and the environment in which we all live and for GOD sakes, curtail habitat destruction. Remember, it's not safe to screw with Mother Nature. We are already seeing the impact! Leave the wolves along, get dogs to protect the herds, learn to live with it, not destroy it!!!

  • posted by Dewey V

    January 18, 2017 11:12 am

    Mrs. Elizabeth Perry's quest to get standalone Wyoming wolf delisting legislation passed is just refried beans. I've lost track of how many times Barrasso and Lummis did the same thing...tried to get a full law delisting Wyoming wolves by fiat, against the letter and spirit of the Endangered Species act. They all went nowhere. Not counting their lame attempts to get frivolous impertinent wolf riders attached to larger , more important bills. They certainly are a desperate lot of inept cloutless grandstanders , our DC reps.

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