U.S. Fish and Wildlife willing to negotiate Wyoming wolf plan

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Feds should accept Wyoming’s plan, including predator zone, a state lawmaker says

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has voluntarily withdrawn its appeal of a Federal District Court ruling in Wyoming that questioned the service’s rejection of Wyoming’s gray wolf management plan.

And the service said it will continue negotiations with Wyoming on wolf management.

In 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson in Cheyenne ordered the service to reconsider its objections to Wyoming’s wolf plan.

“We will continue ongoing negotiations with Wyoming to reach agreement on a wolf management plan that satisfies the Endangered Species Act,” said Acting Fish and Wildlife Service Director Rowan Gould in a news release dated March 15.

Wyoming’s plan would include keeping the predator zone, said Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody.

Johnson ruled in Wyoming’s favor, so now it is time for the service to accept Wyoming’s wolf management plan, Childers said.

The predator zone, which covers nearly 90 percent of the state, would allow wolves to be shot on sight.

The service backed out of the suit, Childers said. “I would say they accept our plan.”

The wolf population in the Rocky Mountain region was estimated at 1,733 in 2009 and 1,651 in 2010, according to a Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery 2010 Interagency Report.

Those figures represent a 5 percent decline between 2009 and 2010.

However, Wyoming’s wolf numbers climbed from 320 in 2009 to 343 in 2010, according to the report.

That’s a 7 percent increase.

Originally, when wolves were re-introduced in the mid 1990s, the recovery goal was a total of 300 wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Wyoming’s plan would maintain the population the service wants, Childers said.

Fish and Wildlife offering to continue discussions is good news, said Tim Hockhalter of Timber Creek Outfitters in Cody. He said nothing will be settled in court.

Getting the animal delisted is the objective, and that is going to necessitate a ruling from the top of the Washington, D.C., food chain, Hockhalter said.

“I think it (delisting) is still going to take congressional action,” Hockhalter said. “Every time they (Fish and Wildlife) want to delist, they get a lawsuit slapped on them by some environmental group.”

A rider was tacked to a bill before Congress to remove wolves in Montana and Idaho from federal protections, but that bill failed, said Coy Knobel, communications director for Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

Last month Enzi and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., cosponsored the American Big Game and Livestock Protection Act, which was introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Coy said.

Enzi will continue to pursue delisting, Coy said.

Gov. Matt Mead was pleased with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision.

“I thought the judge’s ruling was a strong one, and I think this action by the agency may be a sign that the service is willing to look at Wyoming’s plan in a real way and accept what Wyoming people want,” Mead said.

“Wyoming will be better off when Wyoming is managing wolves within its boundaries,” Coy said.

“All we want is state management,” Hockhalter said. “I don’t have anything against the wolves as long as they’re managed.”

“We are trying to work in a spirit of cooperation, and we are cautiously optimistic that we may get somewhere,” Mead said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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