From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 31 - October 31, 2002
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WG&F: Wolves are predators, not trophy game

by Cat Urbigkit

Despite pleas to the contrary by department personnel, and pressure from neighboring states, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission rejected a recommendation to classify wolves as a trophy game species at its meeting in Jackson Monday.

Sportsmen, business people and agriculturalists joined together in a unified front Monday to request the commission stick to its guns by leaving wolves classified as a predator in most of Wyoming.

But Tuesday morning, after the crowd had gone home, the commission agreed to send out a draft plan classifying wolves as trophy game in all wilderness areas throughout western Wyoming.

A meeting hosted by Wyoming's three largest agricultural organizations earlier Monday had resulted in a near-unanimous consensus that wolves should remain classified as predators outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. (See related story, page 3.)

At the last WG&F Commission meeting, the commission voted to seek a dual classification for wolves, with the animals classified as a trophy game animal in wilderness areas adjacent to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, and classified as a predator elsewhere in the state outside of the parks and wilderness areas.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have since indicated that removing wolves from the list of species protected pursuant to the Endangered Species Act probably won't move forward with the dual classification because predators in Wyoming can be killed with little limitations.

Tuesday's action includes all wilderness areas in the Bridger-Teton and Shoshone national forests rather than just those adjacent to the national parks. The draft plan will now include Sublette County's Gros Ventre and Bridger wilderness areas, both of which have domestic livestock use (both cattle and domestic sheep).

Although the WG&F Commission agenda Monday allocated nearly two hours to discussing the wolf issue, a large crowd filled the meeting room and resulted in a five-hour discussion. State legislators from three districts, county commissioners from three counties and people from all over the state patiently listed while wildlife officials from Idaho and Montana talked to the commission about the need to get wolf management plans in place so that the tri-state wolf population could be delisted.

WG&F's Dave Moody then presented the department's recommendation to the commission in the form of a draft wolf management plan.

The plan called for wolves to be granted trophy game status statewide and to "manage for wolf presence in approximately the same area they currently occupy." WG&F would manage for the current number of wolf packs, but wouldn't have any upper or lower pack objectives. The agency would use a management threshold of 15 wolf packs to drive management. If the population was less than 15 packs, limited public harvest could occur. If the population grew to larger than 15 packs, more liberal public harvest could occur.

WG&F would establish management units and hunt areas similar to those in existence for other trophy species, including mountain lions. WG&F would use mortality quotas to regulate take of wolves, which would allow for unlimited license sales.

WG&F would continue to use USDA Wildlife Service to control nuisance wolves killing livestock, but WG&F would manage for other types of nuisance wolves, such as those killing dogs or hanging out in residential subdivisions. If the wolf population contained less than 15 packs, less emphasis would be made on lethal control, but if the population were over that 15-pack threshold, there would be more emphasis on lethal control.

Moody said, "Options range from do nothing to lethal control" in dealing with nuisance wolves under the draft plan. He added that the animal damage statute could be amended to allow landowners to kill wolves that "are in the act" of damaging property.

Wolf and wildlife conflicts could be addressed by identifying potential conflict areas such as elk feedgrounds, and moose and bighorn sheep winter ranges. Monitoring could be increased in the areas and WG&F could manage the conflicts on a case-by-case basis, according to the draft plan, again with a 15-pack threshold for increased emphasis on lethal control.

According to the draft plan, WG&F would also have the option of modifying big game objectives "to account for increased problems."

WG&F personnel proposed that the draft wolf plan be released for public comment through Dec. 12 and that a series of open houses be held Nov. 13-21. The WG&F Commission would then be expected to take final action on approving the wolf plan at its February 2003 meeting.

The commission listened to Moody's presentation of the draft wolf plan, and Commission Chairman Doyle Dorner of Evanston then called for public comment.

Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association noted that a meeting of 40 very involved parties earlier in the day had resulted in very strong support for wolves to remain classified as a predator outside the national parks. Many of the morning meeting participants stayed to provide repeat their views to the commission as well.

Senator Delaine Roberts of Etna supported the predator classification as well, noting his constituents concerns for elk populations.

"They kill the elk for sport," Roberts said. "We need to take a pretty firm stand."

Wildlife advocates from Idaho and Montana spoke in favor of the predator classification as well, noting that their concerns were focused on preservation of big game populations.

Speaking in support of the department's proposal for statewide trophy game status were Cathy Purves of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Meredith Taylor of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, a representative of the Sierra Club, Franz Camenzid of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Jackson photographer and Cougar Fund founder Tom Mangleson and several individuals, one of which described himself as a radical environmentalist. This radical said nothing would make him happier than to see the commission keep wolves classified as predators because then the animals wouldn't be removed from the endangered species list.

Several of the pro-trophy game status speakers described anyone shooting wolves as "snipers," apparently playing on the national news of the time.

Pete Berry of Jackson said he was speaking on behalf of the wolves and said public land ranchers are a tiny minority of people in the country.

"Let's don't pander and cater to a tiny minority," Berry said. "I'm happy the wolves are back."

Fremont County Commissioner and cattleman Doug Thompson said, "If you want 'em, you can have them." He said he supported the dual classification and urged the commission to be careful what it sacrificed in order to have federal approval.

Big Piney cattleman Bill Barney said even with a compensation program, producers can expect only about half of their losses to be compensated. He pushed for wolves to remain classified as predators outside national parks, adding, "It's probably the only way to save our livelihoods in the long run."

Barney pointed out that what he was requesting is the same classification given to coyotes in Wyoming, noting that there is no shortage of these creatures. Barney said to those concerned about wolves: "There will be plenty of wolves ... but this way, those who have to live with them have some recourse."

Outfitters from around the region voiced support for the position advanced by the ranching community as well, citing their concern for the future of hunting in the region.

Paul Gilroy of Jackson said, "We are an industry in jeopardy." Gilroy noted that the room was full of "different degrees of stake-holders here," with some simply hoping to see a wolf out their car window as they drive by, and others living with the animals day in and day out. He urged the commission to heed the words of those living with wolves.

Sublette County Commissioner Bill Cramer said wolves were deemed incompatible with the social and economic environment of his county, which he said is on the front line in terms of being impacted by wolves.

"It is our livelihoods that are on the line," Cramer said, noting that his "little tribe of Sublette County" may not have many people, but the people here are extremely effected.

Cramer said if wolves leave the park, they need to be treated as predators.

"My little tribe of Sublette County is badly affected by wolves," Cramer said. "It's a simple request from very few people ... but it needs to be done."

Cramer's statement drew a round of applause from the crowd.

Park County Commissioner Tim Morrison noted that wolf packs were depicted in Moody's presentation by dots on a map and one of those dots is only 20 miles from the town where he lives.

Sadler reminded the group that it was Jackson's own John Turner who made the decision to reintroduce wolves into Wyoming while he served as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"I think John made the right decision," Sadler said.

Les Henderson of Rock Springs, a former WG&F Commissioner himself, urged the commission to either stick with its dual classification proposal, or retain wolves as predators throughout the state.

Fremont County Commissioner Scott Luther supported the predator status as well, noting wolves aren't actually biologically endangered anyway. He encouraged the commission to stand firm with its earlier position.

Dubois' Pat Moore of People for the West said: "We think the wolf is not the issue, but is the instrument by which radical environmentalists and the federal government will relieve us of our property rights. The experiment is a vast failure as far as private property rights are concerned."

Marvin Applequist of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation asked the commission to note how the afternoon's testimony had revealed sportsmen and agricultural interests standing side-by-side on the issue. He asked the commission to tell the department what to do on this issue, rather than letting it go the other way around, with the department telling the commission what to do. This drew a roaring round of applause from the crowd.

When the public had finally had its say, eight people had spoken in support of trophy game status while about 30 had supported predator status.

The commission began its deliberations, with commissioner Jerry Sander making a motion to rescind the dual classification and pursue statewide trophy game classification. Sanders said he wants to "solve problems, not create problems" and wanted to hurry up and get wolves delisted.

"We need a population low enough we can contain it," Sanders said. "The sooner we get them delisted, the fewer wolves there will be."

Sanders added that in terms of the predator classification and FWS's view of that, "I don't like to play on teams that aren't going to win."

Commissioner Hale Kreycik seconded the motion. He said while he shares the "grave concerns" expressed during testimony, wolf reintroduction is not what was being debated because the wolves are here and state control is what is needed.

Commissioner Gary Lundvall said he's all for cooperation, "but our first responsibility is to the state of Wyoming." He said the national parks and adjacent wilderness areas provide enough habitat to maintain a viable wolf population and that no more space was needed.

"I think it would be fiscally irresponsible to assume another liability and that's what he (the wolf) is - a liability," Lundvall said. He urged the commission to reject Sanders' motion and stay with the dual classification proposal.

"And if that isn't accepted, the Fish and Wildlife Service has the opportunity to manage their wolves," Lundvall concluded.

Commissioner Kerry Powers said he heard the testimony of the folks most directly affected by the proposal.

"I for one have heard the majority speak - ranchers, outfitters, individuals, legislators and sportsmen," Powers said, noting that the support was for the dual classification and not for what the department had proposed.

WG&F Director Tom Thorne tried to convince the commission not to move forward with its dual classification proposal because federal officials wouldn't look favorably on it, so the state plan would be "dead in the water" and a waste of time.

Dorner asked Thorne where the line should be drawn to get FWS to approve the state plan and Thorne responded, "Somewhere close to where wolves are now."

It came time to vote and it came down to a 4-2 vote, with only Sanders and Kreycik voting to rescind the dual classification proposal and seek trophy game status statewide.

Mickey Powers, Lundvall, Linda Fleming and Kerry Powers cast their vote on the opposite side and won the debate, getting cheers and applause from the crowd. Dorner as chairman did not cast a vote.

Thorne pressed the commission on what to do with the draft wolf plan which had proposed the trophy game status and addressed the issue of wolf distribution, but after five hours of debate, Dorner drew the meeting to a close at nearly 7 p.m, Monday, suggesting the commission consider the issue overnight.

Tuesday morning the commission decided to send the draft plan out for review with the trophy classification for wolves in the wilderness areas of western Wyoming. The draft wolf plan should be available for public review by the end of next week.

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