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December 22, 2008 3:57 am

Game and Fish spells out department wolf regulations

Written by Tribune Staff

About 30 people gathered in Cody Wednesday night to hear the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's tweaking of regulations in an attempt to satisfy U.S. Fish and Wildlife's concerns about state management of wolves.

The department held its last public meeting publicizing Emergency Rule 21 pertaining to Wyoming's wolf regulations Wednesday. The department's management alterations are regulatory, such as predation control.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may decide by the end of this year whether to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species list in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

The Wyoming Legislature would make any statutory changes, such as duo status, in which the northwest part of the state is designated a trophy game area, and the remainder of the state designated as a predator zone, in which wolves can be shot on sight. That is the subject of heated debate that is at least partly responsible for a lawsuit that returned gray wolves to endangered status last summer after a short stay of delisting by the service.

If the service delists wolves, the 12 conservation groups that filed the suit would likely file again because of the predator zone, which Wyoming legislators wish to maintain.

“Will it end up back in court? Probably,” said Gary Brown, Wyoming Game and Fish regional supervisor in Cody, who was conducting the Cody meet.

On the other hand, Brown said Wyoming could take the service to court if it rejects Wyoming's wolf plan.

Big Horn County Commissioner Keith Grant said Wyoming should stick with its predator zone.

The area spans about 90 percent of the state and allows wolves to be shot on sight.

Grant said the service agreed with Wyoming's plan last spring, then caved to conservationists when the suit was brought to U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy that summer.

If Wyoming drops duo status, conservation groups would contend with a different component of Wyoming's wolf plan, Grant said.

“If we made them a trophy animal in the whole state, it would just be something else,” Grant said.

Franz Camenzind, executive director of Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said a new lawsuit could be pending, if the legislators don't ditch duo status.

“If it looks the same as it did before, we'll probably react the same as before,” Camenzind said.

The alliance and other conservation groups oppose duo status because it imperils genetic connectivity among wolves, Camenzind said.

As an example, in the Jackson area, the predator zone would be about a mile from the center of town. Wolves crossing Teton Pass to connect with their canine colleagues in Idaho could find themselves in a predator zone crossfire, Camenzind said.

“A logical corridor,” Camenzind said, “but it will become a gauntlet that very few animals will survive.”

Camenzind said he believes citizens are beginning to recognize that the predator zone won't pass muster in Malloy's court or with conservation groups.

“I'm beginning to think the people of Wyoming are going there, but not necessarily our leaders,” Camenzind said.

The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee has selected a bill next year for vote that would retain the wolf's duo status.

Dave Bonner, representative elect of Powell, will serve on the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.

Bonner said the new bill does allow more protections to stock growers, but more concessions may be needed.

“Let's do what we need to do to get Wyoming in control of wolves,” Bonner said.

Compromises may be needed to claim wolf control, including discussing duo status, Bonner said. “I'm certainly willing to have the discussion about the predator zone.”

Earlier this month, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation penned a letter to the service supporting delisting wolves in all three states.

“Wolf populations are well above federal recovery goals and it's time to manage them like other game animals” said David Allen, Elk Foundation president and CEO.

The Game and Fish Commission will take action on the department's proposed regulations January 29-30 in Cheyenne. Public written comments must arrive by Dec. 29, at 5 p.m. The address is Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wildlife Division, ATTN: Regulations, 3030 Energy Lane, Casper, WY 82604.

Copies of the draft regulations are available at the same address or the department's Web site.