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Wolves: U.S. Fish and Wildlife goes for partial delisting

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday it had reached an agreement to lift gray wolf Endangered Species protections in Montana and Idaho, but not Wyoming.

But it’s not a done deal.

The service has experienced increased pressure to delist by Western lawmakers and pressure to keep wolves under federal protections by conservation groups.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reached an agreement with the majority of plaintiffs, including Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and eight other conservation organizations, to settle ongoing litigation over a Federal District Court’s 2010 decision to reinstate Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains,” said a Fish and Wildlife news release issued Friday.

This fall, wolves could be hunted in Montana and Idaho, said Greater Yellowstone Coalition Director Mike Clark.

“Separate negotiations are ongoing between the service and the state of Wyoming in an effort to reach agreement on a management plan for wolves in that state. If a mutually acceptable management plan for wolves in Wyoming can be developed, then the service will be able to proceed with delisting proceedings addressing wolves throughout the northern Rocky Mountains,” said the Fish and Wildlife release.

The Fish and Wildlife Service reaching an agreement with plaintiffs like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition will hopefully convince Congress that the agreement is a step in the right direction so the lawmakers will not pursue legislation that would delist the canines nationwide, Clark said.

But, Republicans, U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis have vowed to continue pushing for wolf delisting in Wyoming.

“While we can appreciate that other states face a similar situation, we do not support the idea of delisting wolves in only part of the Rocky Mountain region,” said Enzi and Barrasso in a joint news release. “We request you work with us to find language that delists wolves in all three impacted states.”

“I believe that the best way to ensure the success of any negotiation is to back it up with the force of law. That is why I continue to support national delisting of the gray wolf,” Lummis said. “I won’t rest until Wyoming sees a complete delisting of the wolf and its management returned to our state’s on-the-ground wildlife experts.”

Clark said he believes for Fish and Wildlife to accept a plan from Wyoming, the predator zone must be nixed. Wyoming’s proposed predator zone, where wolves could be shot on sight, would cover around 90 percent of the state.

Wyoming will stick to dual designation, said Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell.

“The (wolf) concentration is in what everybody considers the trophy game area,” Bonner said. Bonner also is publisher of the Powell Tribune.

In the trophy game area, wolves could be hunted, but under a quota system to protect population objectives.

Last week, Fish and Wildlife withdrew its appeal in Federal District Court that had questioned Wyoming’s wolf plan, Bonner said.

“I think Wyoming’s position is strong,” Bonner said.

The Wyoming Legislature did not pass any wolf bills during its last session that adjourned earlier this month, in part at least, due to advice by Gov. Matt Mead not to, Bonner said.

And, Federal District Court’s decision ordering Fish and Wildlife to re-examine Wyoming’s plan was affirmation to Wyoming to stand by its plan.

“The decision not to modify that law turned out to be prudent,” Bonner said.

Fish and Wildlife’s negotiations with Wyoming would likely entail state officials led by Mead, Bonner said.

Delisting wolves in Idaho and Montana under a “distinct population segment” is not a done deal.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, Mont., and all conservation group plaintiffs must sign-off on the agreement, too, Bonner said.

“And,” Bonner said, “that is not all assured.”

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