Volume 106, Number 4 - January 22, 2009
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Wyoming scrambles on wolves
Here we go again.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett announced the removal of the Northern Rockies gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act last week.
“We believe this is a major success story of conservation,” she said in a teleconference.
The delisting rule will be published this week — almost a year after last year’s delisting rule — giving way to a 30-day waiting period before it becomes official.
However, a major change in this year’s delisting is the absence of Wyoming from the proceedings. The current Wyoming wolf management plan is considered “not sufficient,” Assistant Secretary of the Interior Lyle Laverty said.
“We cannot approve Wyoming’s wolf management plan as currently written,” added Dr. Rowan Gould, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
When delisting occurred last year, the ruling quickly came under fire from environmental and conservation groups. U.S.
District Court Judge Donald Molloy sided with those groups, citing the need for genetic exchange between wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho while admonishing Wyoming’s wolf management plan that included a predator zone designation in much of the state.
“We looked at [Wyoming’s wolf management plan],” said Ed Bangs, FWS wolf coordinator. “The genetic connectivity would not be able to be provided through the state law.”
In current Wyoming law, almost 90 percent of the state falls in a predator zone — which would allow wolves to be shot on contact by anybody. The majority of wolves in the state actually reside in the limited trophy game area in the northwest part of the state.
Bangs also noted FWS’s concern with management language that it perceived could allow Wyoming to shrink the trophy game area. Now the state might have to fight for its inclusion.
“The [FWS] issued an extensive rule and Attorney General Bruce Salzburg is reviewing it,” Gov. Dave Freudenthal said in a statement. “I will await his review. I am obviously disappointed about what I know thus far, and will wait to issue further comment.”
While Wyoming officials were hardly shocked by the decision, derisive comments quickly filtered out.
“This is an outrage,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said. “Wyoming has honored its commitment to recovering the wolf. We have met the goals set out by the [FWS]. [They are] moving the goal posts in the middle of the game. The decision is a dramatic shift from our past discussions, and will only lead to more litigation, unanswered questions and delay.”
Indeed, it appears as though previous enemies may become friends in this new chapter, with litigation possibly coming from both conservationists and the state of Wyoming.
“I think, for the most part, we’re not surprised, but very disappointed that they would essentially reissue the old rule with one modification, which we think, quite frankly, makes it even worse,” said Franz Camenzind, director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. “[The ruling] is being analyzed, but I think [more litigation] is probably inevitable. We had a strong ruling [by Justice Molloy], and it’s essentially the same rule so why wouldn’t we? We may be in court [together] with the state of Wyoming this time.”
The Wyoming state legislature is in charge of making any major modifications to the wolf management plan, but it has shown reluctance this legislative session to vastly change the plan.
While not lobbying one way or the other, the state game and fish department was also disappointed in the ruling, keeping consistent with its beliefs in state management.
“We think wolves are recovered and it’s time for the states to manage them,” said Eric Keszler, game and fish spokesperson. “The state has the resources to manage a delisted wolf population. We don’t try to actively influence their decision making.”
Conservationists still worry that wolves will be killed in the hundreds upon a delisting.
Leaving out Wyoming also seems to throw out the genetic connectivity concerns, Camenzind added.
“The things that are happening are dividing the states and dividing the management,” he said.
Still, federal officials maintain that wolves are a recovered species in the Northern Rocky Mountains, trumpeting the ruling as a massive achievement.
“The important part to state here is that wolves are recovered,” Laverty said.
The absence of Wyoming could also be used as a mechanism to get the state to fall in line.
“We’re trying to provide some incentives for states that have stepped up and done what we asked them to do,” said Rick Sayers, chief of the division of consultation, habitat conservation planning, recovery and state grants within the Endangered Species Program.
For now, all applicable officials and agencies will comb through this week’s published delisting before making their own respective moves. Of course, some had contended that the Bush Administration was pushing this regulation through before it left office. Original estimates had the delisting coming out before the New Year. Instead, because of a delay and the 30-day wait period, the new Obama Administration will have time to rescind the ruling if it deems that as the correct action. The new administration has promised to review all “eleventh hour” regulations pushed through.
The game and fish will remain on the sidelines for quite a while longer regardless.
“They haven’t really given us a lot of details on exactly what they’d like to see us do,” Keszler said. “Our responsibility is pretty much limited to investigating depredation claims in the trophy game area and paying reimbursement on some of those claims.”
Scarlett noted the day as a landmark and an “important part of the national heritage” of the country. Others are not so sure.
“While I have full confidence in the ability of the Wyoming Legislature to continue working in good faith to fine tune our wolf management plan, until the [FWS] figures out how to defend their own actions in court, I fear all of Wyoming’s efforts may be in vain,” Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) said.
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