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July 12, 2011 8:28 am

Dual status wolf plan

Written by Gib Mathers

Wyoming and the federal government hope to publish a preliminary rule delisting Wyoming wolves by this fall that would leave most of the predator zone intact. Wyoming and the federal government hope to publish a preliminary rule delisting Wyoming wolves by this fall that would leave most of the predator zone intact. Courtesy photo/Neale Blank

Wyoming and the federal government have agreed on a dual status plan for wolves in the state, and they hope to publish a preliminary rule delisting Wyoming wolves by the end of September.

“We agree in principle on major issues,” Gov. Matt Mead announced during a news conference Thursday in Cheyenne.

Mead met with Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe Wednesday at the State Capitol. They held a joint news conference the next day.

“The wolf has been recovered in the northern Rocky Mountain region,” Salazar said.

Under the agreement, dual status will stay. In other words, there will be trophy game zones in northwest Wyoming, but most of the state will remain as a predator zone. As outlined in Wyoming’s wolf management plan crafted by the state Legislature several years ago, hunting would be allowed in the trophy game area, and in the rest of the state, wolves could be shot on sight.

However, Mead and the federal representatives agreed on a “flex area” along the Idaho border south of the trophy game zone and south of Jackson. The proposed flex area, located in the predator zone during the summer, would have trophy game rules applied during the winter.

The flex area would provide Wyoming wolves connectivity to Idaho wolves, Mead said.

Mead said livestock producers don’t want wolves, but they prefer state management of the canines. He said he presented the flex plan to livestock producers Wednesday.

“They realized if we don’t do something, we’re in a losing position,” Mead said.

The flex zone boundary would run 50 to 70 miles in length, but not in a straight line, Mead said.

“We have got to get Wyoming managing wolves,” Park County Commissioner Tim French said Monday.

French, who farms near Heart Mountain, said he was pleased that the federal government and the state of Wyoming are hammering out an agreement, but he said he worries about livestock producers in the flex zone. 

Chris Colligan, Greater Yellowstone Coalition wildlife advocate in Jackson, is worried about the viability of the wolf population. The flex area would not allow year-round genetic connectivity between wolves. And, denning wolves could be eradicated in the summer in the flex area, Colligan said Friday.

The flex plan also would not mend the division between opponents and proponents. “It doesn’t do anything to resolve the polarization we have,” Colligan said. 

Mead did not specify the methods that would be used to remove wolves in the predator zone.

“That is one of the things we have not worked out with the Fish and Wildlife Service,” Mead said, responding to a reporter’s question. Mead added that he hopes to reach an agreement with Fish and Wildlife on how those wolves are removed.

Mead said there are 340 wolves in Wyoming, which corresponds closely with the Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery 2010 Interagency Annual Report.

Mead said he and the federal government agreed to maintain 100 wolves, including 10 breeding pairs in Wyoming, outside Yellowstone National Park.

“That’s the absolute minimum,” Mead said.

The previous Fish and Wildlife requirement was 150 wolves including 15 breeding pairs for the entire state.

Yellowstone wolves would be treated as a different population segment, Ashe said.

Mead said there have been tremendous losses of elk, moose and livestock in Wyoming due to wolves.

In 2010, there were 199 confirmed cattle losses and 249 confirmed sheep losses due to wolves in the Rocky Mountain region. In 2009, 193 cows and 749 sheep were killed by wolves, according to the Interagency’s report.

French said there are too many big predators such as wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions in Park County. Wild ungulates and livestock are getting clobbered.

The predator/prey balance has been tipped, and ungulates such as elk populations in the Sunlight Crandall area need a chance to rejuvenate, he said.

Implementing dual status will reduce wolf numbers so elk and moose will have an opportunity to rally, French said. 

If livestock and wild ungulates rebound and hunters are allowed to harvest wolves, polarization around the wolf issue will decrease, French said.

Salazar said the federal government and the state are working together on the agreement rather than opposing each other.

“This is the kind of effort I hope we can have more of between the United States and states,” Salazar said.

Mead said any accepted plan requires the approval of the Wyoming Legislature. It also must have Congressional consent and a no-litigation clause to prevent lawsuits.

Colligan countered that taking Congressional action to prevent further lawsuits suggests Wyoming’s plan cannot sustain scientific scrutiny.

“Why can’t Wyoming make a plan that can stand up on its own merits?” Colligan asked.

French agreed a federal bill is needed to prevent more lawsuits.

On Wednesday, Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., announced wording in the 2012 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill that would transfer control of wolves to Wyoming once the Department of the Interior and Wyoming officials reach a successful conclusion in the ongoing wolf delisting negotiations.

The bill’s language will protect any agreement reached between the Wyoming and the Department of Interior from judicial review, she said in a Wednesday news release.

Colligan said the public will have an opportunity to comment on any wolf plan before it reaches the state or the nation’s capital.