From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 18 - July 27, 2006
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FWS rejects wolf petition, state files intent to sue

by Cat Urbigkit

There were no surprises in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision this week rejecting a petition submitted by the State of Wyoming seeking to remove the gray wolf population in the Northern Rocky Mountains from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

FWS continues to demand that Wyoming change its state law to comply with what FWS wants, or wolves won’t be de-listed.

Claiming “after a thorough review of all available scientific and commercial information,” FWS concluded that the wolf population cannot be de-listed until adequate regulatory mechanisms protecting the wolf are put in place by Wyoming, as they have been by the states of Idaho and Montana. FWS is required by the Endangered Species Act to take into account the adequacy or inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms when determining whether delisting is warranted.

FWS, “therefore, cannot propose to de-list the wolf until Wyoming amends its law and approves a wolf management plan that regulates and limits the human take of wolves, commits to maintaining at least 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in mid-winter, and defines a wolf pack for management purposes using consistent and accepted scientific standards.”

Under current Wyoming law, wolves are defined as predatory animals, a status that will not protect the wolf and would limit the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s ability to maintain the minimum number of breeding pairs necessary outside of the national park units in northwestern Wyoming if the wolf is de-listed, according to FWS.

FWS has not yielded from its demands. According to astatement from the federal agency: “In order for FWS to move forward with a delisting proposal, Wyoming state law must clearly authorize the Wyoming state wolf plan and professional wildlife managers in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to:

• Classify wolves in Wyoming as trophy game or similar status so WG&F has clear legal authority to regulate human-caused mortality if needed.

• Commit to managing wolves to ensure that the Wyoming segment of the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population never goes below 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves in mid-winter. Wyoming must maintain some wolf packs in northwestern Wyoming outside the national park units.

• Define a wolf pack by scientific standards that approximate the current breeding pair definition so Montana, Idaho and Wyoming use similar criteria to manage and maintain a recovered wolf population.

The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is a total of 30 breeding pairs and at least 300 wolves, with Montana, Idaho and Wyoming each sustaining a minimum of 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves for a minimum of three consecutive years. This goal was attained in 2002. By the end of 2005, 1,020 wolves and 71 breeding pairs were estimated in the Northern Rockies.

In February of 2006, FWS announced its intent to propose designating and delisting the Rocky Mountain Population as a DPS, as soon as Wyoming implemented an adequate state law and management plan. A DPS designation allows the service to treat populations of a species that meet certain criteria for genetic or geographic uniqueness as a separate entity for listing purposes. FWS can therefore list or de-list populations that meet the criteria of a DPS independent of considerations that may govern evaluation ofthe entire species.

In announcing its rejection of the Wyoming petition, FWS pledged to “continue to work with Wyoming to resolve the state’s concerns about wolf management in a way that will allow FWS to propose that the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population be de-listed.”

Wyoming has no intention of working with FWS on the issue. Responding to the announcement, Governor Dave Freudenthal said, “The action by the Fish and Wildlife Service actually makes it easier for us to proceed to use a judicial forum to contest their decision to deny the petition. It is our hope that we can move expeditiously to proceed to get a judicial review of the scientific adequacy of the state’s regulatory mechanism as passed by the legislature.”

Later the same day of the FWS announcement, Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank issued a notice of intent to sue FWS, a requirement before an Endangered Species Act case may be filed.

The notice of intent warns FWS that the “state intends to file a lawsuit in federal district court to compel action on two different petitions.” One petition is asked FWS to amend the existing gray wolf management regulations to incorporate proposed changes “intended to mitigate the negative impacts on livestock and wildlife being caused by the rapidly growing recovered gray wolf population in Wyoming.” FWS has thus far failed to act on this petition.

The second petition is the one that proposed the establishment of a Northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment for the gray wolf and to de-list this population.

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