On Tuesday, commissioners threw their support behind a proposed insertion into the “Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016” that would remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf and effectively block any environmentalists …
Wanting the gray wolf to be turned over to state management as soon as possible, Park County commissioners are calling on Congress to do an end-run around the judges and environmental groups that might stand in the way.
On Tuesday, commissioners threw their support behind a proposed insertion into the “Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016” that would remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf and effectively block any environmentalists from challenging the delisting in court.
“The way I read it, it says that it will be free from judicial review, forever, in perpetuity, which I really like,” Commissioner Joe Tilden said.
The commission voted unanimously to send a letter to the leaders of the Senate’s Energy Committee — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington — urging them to support the wolf provision when the final version of the energy bill is compiled.
Delisting the wolf, commissioners wrote, “is critical for the economic sustainability of Park County, which is experiencing the greatest impact from wolf predation in Wyoming.”
Data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says wolves were confirmed to have killed 37 cattle in Park County last year. That’s more cattle depredations than the rest of the state combined, although — unlike other areas — no sheep or other animals were killed here.
Commissioners sent the letter at the request of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and borrowed much of the language from a letter the association is sending.
According to information compiled by commissioners’ executive assistant Shaunna Romero, the Stock Growers Association was asked by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso’s office to send a letter to the Chair and Ranking member of the Energy Committee urging support for the provision; the association was encouraged to have the letter co-signed by as many agriculture, sportsmen and wildlife and other affected organizations as possible, Romero said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service removed Endangered Species Act protections from the gray wolf in Wyoming in 2012 — leading to hunting that fall and in the fall of 2013 — but U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson of Washington, D.C., voided the service’s decision and effectively re-listed the wolves in September 2014.
The state of Wyoming and the federal government have been appealing that ruling and made their case to a panel of three appeals court judges last month.
Commissioner Tilden doubts that decision will go the way the county wants.
“Of the three judges that heard the appeal, one was a (Bill) Clinton appointee, one was an (Barack) Obama appointee and one was a (George W.) Bush appointee, so you can kind of figure out what the verdict’s going to be,” Tilden said.
It was Congressional action that turned wolves over to state management in Montana and Idaho — done by a similar attachment to a 2011 bill that blocked judicial review for five years.
Noting that the rider now proposed to delist Wyoming’s wolves appears to block challenges in perpetuity, “this is better than what Montana and Idaho had,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.
Before voting to put their support behind the wolf rider, commissioners got an earful from Cody resident Dewey Vanderhoff.
“This is an example of really terrible legislating, when you start attaching riders that don’t even pertain to the body and intent of the bill,” he said.
“I will use whatever tool I have available to move this forward,” responded Commissioner Lee Livingston. “As soon as wildlife management is not decided by courts, and (decisions) are left in the hands of the biologists and wildlife managers, then I would not need to go here.”
Vanderhoff said commissioners should be more concerned about energy policy and have limited influence in Congress.
“When you exclude something from the courts, boy, that is a red flag foul, legislatively,” he added.
“I’m willing to take that risk,” responded Livingston, saying he felt “completely comfortable moving forward.”
“I’m playing their game,” he added later.
Tilden added that, “if science was allowed to work with the Endangered Species Act, we wouldn’t have to do this.”
“That is not the issue here. The issue is legislative process,” Vanderhoff countered. He said the wolf and energy issues didn’t belong in the same bill.
“I agree with you to a certain extent,” Tilden said. “But they will not allow science to do its job.”
Editor's note: This version corrects the home of Sen. Cantwell.