From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 18 - August 1, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Counties strike out with WG&F

by Cat Urbigkit

Western Wyoming county commissioners struck out at trying to get the Wyoming Game and Fish (WG&F) Commission to rescind its state grizzly bear management plan and go back to the drawing board.

Fremont County Commissioner Scott Luther led the mountain county contingent at Thursday's WG&F Commission meeting in Evanston. He presented the commissioners with a resolution enacted by Fremont, Lincoln, Sublette and Washakie counties, while noting that Park County was represented at the meeting and planned to enact its own resolution and that Hot Springs County was expected to enact a resolution as well.

The resolutions all request the commission rescind its recently approved grizzly bear management plan.

"We feel we have been left out of the loop" when it came to the drafting the plan and the end result doesn't address the concerns of the particular counties, Luther said.

Luther said: "I know that the state criticizes the federal government for not allowing their input into endangered species (issues), and you guys feel like things are being rammed down your throat, basically being forced into doing what you're doing. Fremont County feels that exact same frustration with the state of Wyoming. We haven't been allowed to go through the process in our forum and we respectfully request that happen."

Luther said the process for involving county governments needs to take place in the proper forum, which is at the county commission's table in the county courthouse during a scheduled public meeting where all that occurs is properly recorded.

The wildlife commission said there was an exhaustive public participation process, including numerous meetings. Sublette County Commissioner Betty Fear concurred with Luther's comments, adding that although her county is highly impacted by grizzlies and their management, not one meeting was held in Sublette County.

Luther presented the commission with a copy of Fremont County's resolution declaring grizzlies to be an unacceptable species within the boundaries of the county. Fear presented a similar resolution enacted by Sublette County.

Park County Commission Chairman Tim Morrison spoke to the commission as well. He said while his county has a different set of circumstances than the other counties, grizzly-bear management is an important issue for people in Park County communities. Morrison said the plan creates a whole new set of values and circumstances, and asked the state to take the county's concerns into consideration.

WG&F Commissioner Gary Lundvall said the public process was "very exhaustive" and took about two years, giving enough time for everyone to comment.

"I don't know what more the Game and Fish can do - they are probably the most open, and have more meetings, than anyone I've ever known," Lundvall said. "And yet you come here after the fact, wanting a seat at the table - that table's been open for almost two years."

Lundvall said the state doesn't have the authority to manage grizzly bears yet anyway, so due to federal law, "it's out of our control." He said if the state withdraws the plan, it could spend another five or six years putting together another plan, which is a necessity for delisting grizzlies.

The commission scoffed at Luther's assertion the plan was rushed through and Game Commissioner J. Michael Powers told Luther, "You need to look at the predicament that the State of Wyoming is in." While the state wants federal money to manage grizzlies, Powers said the important thing is to have the species under state authority.

Game Commissioner M. Hale Kreycik said it comes down to a choice of "the lesser of two evils": leaving grizzlies under federal management or having the state take over.

WG&F's Dave Moody agreed, stating, "If we don't delist, we're not a player."

Moody said the approval of the state management plan was one action and that there will be more opportunities for public comment at the local level as the state wildlife agency starts "fine-tuning" its grizzly program, including establishing bear management units and population targets.

Powers emphasized, "Without a state plan, you'll have no control whatsoever over what happens."

Fear took issue with those statements, questioning, "Is any plan what we want, or do we want a good plan?" to which Game Commission Chairman Doyle Dorner said, "That's why we spent two years and $250,000."

Fear said there are a number of concerns that haven't been adequately addressed in the current plan: "I just think that we shouldn't settle for second best ... When we adopt a plan it has to be in everyone's best interest."

Morrison said while he was heartened to learn that the adoption of the plan was only the start of a process to gain more public input, he pointed to portions of the plan that he said creates a situation where management of the resources is untenable. Morrison said one provision indicates that if females grizzlies with cubs are killing livestock, "as long as they're are not around humans, it's going to be okay."

Moody said that provision is actually part of the draft federal conservation strategy for grizzlies and that draft is currently being revised.

"That's not what we are proposing," Moody said.

When pressed by Powers as to what alternative to the state management plan the counties would like to see, Luther said a plan which pushes the grizzly bear habitat zone back to the primary recovery area rather than the new line which runs from Kemmerer to Farson and Lander.

If the commission were to adopt this idea, Luther said, "you wouldn't have the opposition that you have right now."

"Why is it that every mountain county that is affected by this plan, (except Teton County), why is it that each one of us are here today talking to you about this?" Luther questioned. "Obviously there's a problem ... We're here. We're concerned."

Dorner said everyone was invited to participate in the past and input will be invited again in the future. Luther pointed out that what the public was asked to comment on was a lot different than the version approved by the state commission.

"This is not a done product," Dorner said. "This is not an end product." Dorner emphasized that "once we get control of the bear" then his agency can solicit input from communities about where it is acceptable to have bears in what numbers.

"It doesn't matter where those lines are," Dorner said. "That plan will not see the light of day" until bears are removed from federal protection and state managers take over. Dorner said, "We really do understand your frustration, but we are trying to act in the greater good ... to get bears delisted."

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