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October 02, 2008 3:02 am

Wolves step back into the fray

Written by Tribune Staff

Conservation groups who filed a lawsuit last summer may be celebrating their recent victory over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to put wolves back on the Endangered Species list, but the future of wolf management in Wyoming is still very much up in the air.

“We feel vindicated in that sense,” said Franz Camenzind, executive director of Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, one of the 12 conservation-group plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit before Judge Donald Molloy in U.S. District Court. “But we also know this is not an end point.”

Since Fish and Wildlife put wolves back on the Endangered Species list and back under the agency's protection in September, the state of Wyoming would have to write new legislation to manage wolves and get the service's approval. But, first, Fish and Wildlife officials would need to provide Wyoming with a proposal.

“They haven't come up with a proposal yet,” said said Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, who is co-chairman of the Wyoming Legislature's Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.

If Wyoming lawmakers decide to alter the previous wolf-management plan completed this year, it will require new statutes, Childers said.

“What we're doing is thinking about a meeting to discuss what we want to do,” he said. “Do we want to do anything?”

Childers said the state could take the lead of Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Teton/Fremont, who drafted a Wyoming wolf bill after Malloy's temporary injunction in July, which put wolves back under federal protection.

Essentially, Gingery's proposal would place wolf management in the hands of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which would manage wolves as trophy game animals across the state. However, the bill has not been officially discussed by the Legislature, Childers said.

Camenzind said Gingery's bill would be a step in the right direction, but he and his conservationist colleagues still would be concerned with numbers. A liberal season could entail hunting throughout the year, and that could drastically cut the wolf population.

A lot of the controversy boils down to genetic viability, which in turn could be connected to the wolf predator zone that was to extend across most of Wyoming.

Childers said Fish and Wildlife had agreed to the predator zone in Wyoming, but did not say so in writing.
If the wolf's genetic viability is at stake, Childers said, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Idaho and Montana state wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could provide evidence of genetic viability by tracing DNA to wolves around the states from the original starter wolves introduced in the 1990s.

Childers said he believes the majority of legislators and voters oppose a trophy zone extending across the state. But, Childers said he could be wrong, because he does not know the opinions of the new batch of Wyoming lawmakers taking office in January.

Camenzind said the alliance and other groups must continue to work toward their goals of protecting population numbers and protecting the wolf's genetic viability.

Some of the 12 conservation groups may be more strident than others, but they all agree that stock growers must be compensated for animal loss due to wolf predation, he said.

Camenzind said there is a quiet middle group out there that is up for grabs by both wolf advocate and anti-wolf camps. His hope is these people are receptive to factual information.

More to come shortly