Volume 2, Number 45 - February 6, 2003
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Legislators hear howling testimony
They came from all corners of the state, driving for many miles to have their say. Many of the stories were similar and all were heartfelt. They filled the meeting room, nervously waiting their turn to testify.
Last Wednesday afternoon, the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee of the Wyoming Legislature held a public hearing to accept public input on wolf management in Wyoming.
Co-Chairmen Senator Delaine Roberts of Etna and Representative Mike Baker of Thermopolis presented opening remarks and comments about the bills they were sponsoring.
Baker's House Bill 229 proposed a dual classification for wolves, but its 17-pages of details, including a requirement for at least 15 packs for wolves to be classified as predators, generated a great deal of concern for those who attended to testify.
"House Bill 229 is not perfect," Baker said, but pledged to work with the public on improving it. He said one way to improve the bill would be to insert a provision that would allow the state to withhold the names of persons who legally kill a wolf.
Baker said this provision is necessary because he is aware there will be threats, adding, "I have had some vague ones tossed at me."
Roberts' Senate File 97 proposed to assert the state's jurisdiction over its wildlife, imposing severe restrictions on federal actions in the state. Roberts said doing so would eliminate the federal government's hold on state wildlife managers.
More than 50 Wyoming residents testified, from Chuck Sandberg, who owns both game processing plants in Jackson Hole, to Crook County rancher JW Nuckolls.
Moran rancher Alan Rosenbaum said he's been on the frontline of the wolf issue for the last three years, with the Teton wolf pack denning in his area and recently coming less than 20 yards from his house. In addition, there is a second wolf pack in the area that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to acknowledge, Rosenbaum said. The Teton pack recently killed a two-year old, 1,100-pound pregnant heifer, Rosenbaum said, adding: "I need help. ... I need protection for my family, for myself and for the property I'm entrusted to take care of."
Lander's Jim Allen, president of the Wyoming Dude Ranchers Association and a board member of the Wyoming Outfitters Association, told legislators of the impact of wolves on big game.
"We're killing the golden goose and we can't do that," Allen said. He also said he feared for his family's safety: "They better stay safe or ... I'm going to shoot a wolf."
Newly elected Lincoln County Commissioner Allan Linford reminded the legislators that his county's official position is that wolves aren't welcome because of the threat to the economy, health and safety of the county's citizens.
Dubois rancher and former state legislator Budd Betts testified that wolves have killed three dogs on his ranch, including a precious family pet: "shredded to bits, literally ... 20 steps from the house.
"I do not believe wolves don't present a threat to human safety," Betts said, despite claims to the contrary by wolf advocates.
Fremont County Commissioner Crosby Allen advocated wolves retain their predator classification outside Yellowstone National Park. He noted that there will be litigation over removing wolves from federal protections and urged the state to go it alone, basing its decisions on its jurisdiction of wildlife within state borders. Allen questioned the legislators, "Do we want to go into that court handcuffed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?"
Farmer Glen French of Powell said that he joins others in enjoying area wildlife, but herd numbers are dropping as the wolf population increases.
"The economic impact is tremendous," French said. "When the elk are gone, the ranchers are next."
French noted that wolves are currently pushing the elk out of the mountains and down onto farmlands in the Powell area.
Rancher Phil Cross of Dubois said of his place in the Dunoir Valley, "I think we're the leading beef feeders to the wolves at this stage of the game - in fact, I know we are.
"We need to be rid of them," Cross said, adding that he doesn't begrudge the wolves, but does "have a grudge against the people who put them in here."
Crowheart cattleman Joe Baine said he summers cattle on Cross' ranch and "We never get all of them back."
Big Horn County Commissioner Keith Grant was firm in his stance: "We don't have any wolves and we're not going to have any wolves ... We're just not going to allow it."
Big Piney elk feeder Mike Schaffer testified about his experience with wolves on the North Piney elk feedground, until the wolves ran the elk away, eliminating his feeding job.
Dunoir rancher Jon Robinette told of the history of depredations on the Diamond G, which have persisted despite the fact that the ranch sold off a great deal of its cattle. Wolves have also killed dogs on the ranch on five occasions, coming on the ranch house's front and back porches. In one case, his wife was walking the dog to the barn to lock it up when the wolves appeared and killed it instead. In addition to cattle and dogs, wolves have killed two adult horses and a colt on the ranch as well.
"I blame the United States Congress for this," Robinette said. "We can't go on with these kinds of losses."
Robinette said when his wife takes her Jack Russell terrier outside at night, it requires a leash, a pistol and a spotlight.
Representative Randall Luthi of Freedom noted that there is an expanding front line of people dealing with wolves, noting that Utah officials confirmed wolf presence as well.
"Utah was so excited about it, they sent it back to Wyoming," Luthi said, urging the legislators to remain firm in its dealings with federal officials on the wolf issue.
Local governments need to help decide where a species like wolves are allowed to live, Luthi said.
Afton outfitter Maury Jones told the legislative committee that he supports wolves outside Yellowstone National Park being classified as a predator.
"If he steps foot outside that park, he's a coyote," Jones said.
B.J. Hill, a Jackson Hole outfitter, said he's watched wolves run cattle on federal grazing allotments.
"Between the grizzly bear and the wolves, the cowman in western Wyoming has no chance," Hill said. Hill referred to environmentalists, with their "anti-elk feeding agenda ... This Canadian killer is their guarantee to get rid of sport hunting."
Hill said the non-essential, experimental wolf reintroduction conducted by the federal government was a failure.
"The experiment failed because it was too successful," Hill said.
Lincoln County Commissioner Kathy Davison said her county commission stood in opposition to the wolf reintroduction. She said there used to be 13 domestic sheep outfits in the county, but that number has dropped down to about two. Davison said she fears "this industry will be completely lost" without controls put on the wolf population.
Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Linda Fleming of Baggs advocated a dual classification for wolves.
"We need to have dual classification ... as quickly as possible to minimize the damage and danger to the people of this state," Fleming said.
Darlene Vaughan of Lander told the committee, "A week ago today, my life was changed," when wolves moved onto her ranch just three miles outside of Lander.
"These wolves will eat us out of house and home," Vaughan said, noting she and husband Dave are due to begin calving in two short weeks.
Dave Vaughan testified that he's the most recent graduate of the "rubber-bullet, bean-bag shooting school" sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"I feel like a hostage," he said.
Big Piney cattleman Bill Barney is in the same boat. He told the committee calving would start soon.
"We're going to have the only calves on the ground for about a month," Barney said. "We're not looking forward to that."
Barney urged the committee to modify its legislation so it works for people in Wyoming.
"If we can't do that ... delay delisting," Barney said.
Bill Barney's son Colin Barney testified as well, noting he had the difficult realization recently that he has to lay down new rules for his five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son because wolves have moved into the area near their home, just south of Big Piney.
Daniel rancher Charles Price said HB229 needed some changes and cautioned the committee, "don't buy anything we can't live with."
Price's neighbor Albert Sommers told of livestock losses in the Upper Green River region.
"I can't sustain a seven-percent calf loss on my summer range ... I simply will run out of business," Sommers said. He urged changes to HB229 as well, adding, "I do not want delistment to feed me to the wolves."
WG&F Commissioner Kerry Powers of Lusk said it's apparent how the major stakeholders feel about wolves. He said there is no way to control wolves as a trophy game animal statewide, so the commission supports the dual classification instead.
Fontenelle sheep rancher Mary Thoman told a story of wolves preying on her sheep herd, scattering injured sheep for miles.
"It was a massive massacre," Thoman said, occurring 150 miles south of Yellowstone park. "We're running in the red because of these losses."
Thoman also urged the legislators, "Don't compromise our industry or our way of life."
Angela Denney of Cheyenne said she and her husband, Scott, own an outfitting business in Wyoming and Idaho.
"I've seen the devastation in Idaho ... It's only a matter of time," Denny said.
E.K. Bostick of Cody Outfitters said, "We have dogs in our yard to keep the grizzlies away. With the wolves I can no longer turn my dogs out."
Bostick said, "The dual classification everyone talks about is a death knell." He said the committee must insist on "no wolves nowhere outside of Yellowstone National Park."
Jim Magagna, taking off his Wyoming Stock Growers Association hat and putting on his ranching Stetson, read aloud to the legislators a letter from a Sublette County rancher, noting that she couldn't attend the hearing because the wolves have been cornering her horses "so I can't leave."
Larry Bourett of Laramie, a long-time opponent of wolf reintroduction, asked the legislators to consider: "Not all stakeholders have the same stake ... You need to remember that," suggesting that people in northwest Wyoming have the greatest stake in the outcome.
Fremont County Commissioner Doug Thompson said he had just left a meeting of the Wyoming County Commission Association where a unanimous vote was cast "supporting the concept that the State of Wyoming must have effective management and control authority over the gray wolf in order to protect private property, public health and safety."
Three environmentalists spoke in support of wolves: Patricia Dowd of the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club, Larry Boessler of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and Jason Marsden of Wyoming Conservation Voters. They advocated wolves be granted trophy game status statewide.
After more than three hours of testimony, the committee hearing ended. The committee was expected to continue to rework the proposed wolf legislation this week.
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