Volume 3, Number 15 - July 10, 2003
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FWS calls for changes in Wyo wolf law
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wolf Coordinator Ed Bangs sent his agency's official comment letter on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's draft wolf plan. That letter attempts to cut the WG&F commission out of some decision-making, bucks the intent and word of state law and threatens the state with wolves not being removed from federally protected status because of the actions of the Wyoming Legislature.
Bangs' seven-page letter was addressed to WG&F Director Brent Manning and was dated July 2.
Bangs wrote: "Wyoming must have a state law that is clearly consistent with and complements its state wolf plan. This plan, with some modifications, may be adequate for the service to proceed with the delisting process. However, we must be sure it is consistent with Wyoming state law. Currently Wyoming state law may not provide WG&F the authority to implement this plan."
Bangs said his agency is concerned about moving forward with the delisting process "unless state law unambiguously authorizes implementation of a state wolf -management plan that will conserve wolves above recovery levels. Any final plan must be at least as conservation-oriented toward wolves as the management framework that is outlined in the current draft plan."
Apparently what Bangs is getting at is that, while the agency likes the draft plan, it doesn't like the state law, and until the state law is put in line with the plan, "We are concerned that your plan can not be implemented under the current state law."
Bangs pointed out that there must be a minimum of 15 packs in Wyoming, with at least seven of those packs located outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, "regardless of how many are in those parks."
Because of the narrow one-mile common boundary with Grand Teton National Park, the entire Gros Ventre Wilderness must be part of the initial wolf trophy game area.
Bangs noted that the draft wolf plan acknowledged that measuring wolf packs for post-delisting monitoring "could be slightly different than 'five wolves traveling together in winter' as inferred by state law." But Wyoming law didn't infer the definition, it clearly stated that a "pack means five or more gray wolves traveling together."
Bangs' letter continued that the draft plan recognizes the state law definition is different from the current recovery definition "and that inconsistency must be resolved. The service is committed to work with the states to mutually resolve that scientific issue."
In addition, Bangs wrote, "The service supports the flexibility in the definition of a wolf pack as recommended in the plan." Bangs maintains that this is a scientific issue, not a legal one, although the issue is clearly defined in state law.
As for switching to trophy game status throughout western Wyoming if the wolf population dropped below a certain threshold, with wolves otherwise classified as predators outside of the national parks and certain wilderness areas, Bangs wrote, "As your plan states, the switch from predatory animal to trophy game status should happen once. Flipping back and forth is confusing to all interested parties."
State law provides for the WG&F commission to make these decisions, but Bangs responded that some type of "mandatory and automatic authority" be instituted to address the situation.
"The proper agency management response can not be dependent on the next commission meeting or some undefined future optional event," Bangs wrote.
Bangs wrote that WG&F "should have the flexibility to use its professional scientific judgment to trigger trophy status prior to an 'emergency' and hitting the threshold of at least seven wolf packs outside the parks. The service's preference is to not have a seven-pack trigger but instead to immediately designate all wolves in the proposed (western Wyoming area) as trophy game and manage them so that at least seven packs are maintained in that area."
Bangs emphasized that his agency's preferred alternative would be for the WG&F, upon delisting, to immediately designate all wolves throughout western Wyoming as trophy game animals. Bangs suggested it is not in accordance with the law enacted by the Wyoming Legislature.
"We urge Wyoming to reconsider having wolves listed as predatory animals anywhere in Wyoming," Bangs wrote. "That designation may spoil our mutual desire to successfully delist the wolf population and maintain a recovered population."
As for the dual status of wolves called for in the Wyoming law, Bangs wrote: "While we understand that some people in Wyoming feel very strongly that this was necessary, we believe it was a very serious mistake that will continue to haunt our efforts to successfully delist wolves in the northwestern U.S., including Wyoming. No other state with wolves in the Midwest, Southwest, or Northwest has taken this position as it infers wolves should be eliminated and not maintained as a recovered population."
Although not mentioned in the FWS letter, all of those areas have yet to see wolves delisted either.
Bangs continued that negative perceptions caused by the state law "will cause unimaginable rhetoric, conflict, emotion and mistrust" as well as provide fodder for raising "millions of dollars and provide a unifying justification for those groups who have most strongly supported wolf restoration ... the very organizations that are most likely to litigate over wolf delisting."
"The Wyoming Legislature could help to avoid a huge and very public brawl that will be damaging, if not fatal, to the service's efforts to delist a recovered wolf population and would greatly improve the national public's attitude and trust of Wyoming's abilities to manage wolves, by authorizing wolf trophy game status statewide," Bangs wrote.
Bangs volunteered his agency's cooperation in Wyoming's efforts to move the wolf delisting process forward, but also predicted that "ultimately the legal system will evaluate whether the service acted within the law" in whatever delisting decision it makes concerning wolf recovery.
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