Wyoming wolf delisting conceivable in future

Posted 8/11/11

Necessary steps include: The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission must vote to change existing statutes to those on the list that were negotiated by Fish and Wildlife and the governor.

Next, Fish and Wildlife must publish its preliminary rule in the …

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Wyoming wolf delisting conceivable in future


Although wolf delisting is not a sure bet yet and still faces opposition, Gov. Matt Mead and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may have reached a preliminary agreement for Wyoming wolf management.

But, even if everything goes according to plan, state wolf management would not result until the fall of 2012, and multiple parties must agree in the process.

Necessary steps include: The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission must vote to change existing statutes to those on the list that were negotiated by Fish and Wildlife and the governor.

Next, Fish and Wildlife must publish its preliminary rule in the Federal Register, which Gov. Mead said he believes will occur Oct. 1. Following the preliminary rule is a one-year comment period.

Then, or after the commission’s decision, the Wyoming Legislature must ratify the changes.

Finally, Congress must vote to delist wolves in Wyoming, said Renny MacKay, communications director for Mead.

In July, U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., successfully added a no-litigation rider into a 2012 congressional appropriations bill, and a clause that would immediately put Wyoming wolves under state control.

“My general sense is it (the federal/state wolf agreement) is probably the best deal we’re going to come up with,” Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, said last week, though he said he still needed to dig into the proposal’s details.

“I lean towards supporting it,” said Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody. But, he added, “I’m not going to say yes until I see the language (of the Wyoming Legislature bill).”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission tentatively will hold a September emergency meeting in Casper, said Mike Healy, of Worland, representing District 5 of the commission.

“It will be an up or down vote on this plan,” Healy said. He said he believes the commission probably will accept the plan.

Despite altering a section of the predator zone south of Jackson that would make it a trophy management zone from Oct. 15 to the end of February, Wyoming has been able to keep its predator zone, covering nearly 90 percent of the state where wolves can be shot on sight.

Chris Colligan, Greater Yellowstone Coalition wildlife advocate in Jackson, said, “I feel like it’s the same plan we had all along.”

In 2009, Idaho issued around 1,500 wolf hunting licenses. From those, around 270 wolves were killed by hunters, Healy said.

“What’s the difference between that and shoot on sight?” Healy asked rhetorically. “Not much.”

The Idaho numbers reflect a less than 20 percent success ratio.

“Wolves pick up on this hunting business apparently very quickly,” Healy said.

The plan on the table is what Gov. Mead negotiated with the federal government. Some will adamantly oppose the plan, but some will not, Healy said.

“It is reasonably close to what is wanted, so let’s do it,” Healy said.

Aerial gunning of wolves inside the trophy game management area, directed by Wyoming Game and Fish Department, will be allowed to control livestock depredations, to achieve objectives for ungulate management — if wolves determined to be a significant cause for not meeting those objectives — or to address human safety issues. However, all other aerial gunning for routine wolf population maintenance inside the trophy game management area is prohibited, according to a fact sheet about the wolf management agreement between Wyoming and U.S. Department of the Interior.

“What does ‘significant cause’ mean?” Colligan asked, wanting quantification.

Statewide, elk populations continue to be above objectives, he said.

In the Clark’s Fork elk herd, the population objective is 3,000. The population was at 5,500 in 2009, according to a Cody region 2009 big game report available on the Game and Fish website.

“The data just doesn’t support some of the claims being made,” Colligan said.

In an Aug. 3 news release, Mead said,“For years ranchers and sheep producers have been asked to sacrifice and they have ... We have lost significant numbers of elk and moose, and we have not had a say in the management of an animal inside Wyoming.”

While news of delisting is encouraging for some, cautious optimism might be advised.

In 2007, Fish and Wildlife approved Wyoming’s wolf plan, but rejected it later the same year. “Wyoming has been approved before, and it has turned around,” Colligan said.

Childers said he remains wary of the federal government. “I’m skeptical about them,” Childers said. “However they do want to delist.”

According to a wolf recovery report, Wyoming had 246 wolves outside the park in 2010. Outside Yellowstone, Wyoming would maintain a minimum of 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs, according to the plan.

“This is literally overkill,” said Bonnie Rice, senior organizer for the Sierra Club’s resilient habitats campaign in the Yellowstone region in an Aug. 3 press release. “Wyoming’s proposal to allow the killing of a huge percentage of the state’s wolves, including next to Yellowstone National Park, is all about politics, rather than science.

“This deal, if it goes forward, could reverse the significant gains that have been made to recover wolves in the northern Rockies, and would clearly devastate the wolf population in Wyoming. Interior should send this plan back to the drawing board until Wyoming gets it right,” Rice said.