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Guest Opinions

The New Wolf Plan

Written by Ken Hamilton

Most ranchers have heard about the negotiations between the Secretary of Interior and Governor Mead regarding the wolf issue. Many have probably even had some conversations with the Steve Ferrell, the Governor’s representative, over some of the details. Of course, less clear is what all of this means.

The Governor met with the Secretary of Interior and agreed to a couple of major points. The first, and perhaps the most widely reported, deals with an adjustment of the wolf boundary farther south from the current wolf trophy game boundary. The agreement allows wolves to be treated as trophy game animals from Oct. 15 until the end of February between the old boundary and the new boundary and as predators from March 1 until Oct. 15. The boundary lines can be found in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s proposed updated wolf management plan.

The other area where there was agreement reached between the feds and Wyoming is that Wyoming will now be responsible for 10 breeding pairs of wolves (roughly 100 wolves) outside of the national parks. The Park Service may or may not manage wolves for the five breeding pair “buffer,” which has been a part of the Wyoming wolf management plan since the adoption of legislation in 2003. In addition to these two main points, there were agreements on changes of management within the trophy game management area (TGMA). All of these changes will require amendments to Wyoming’s statutes.  

In addition to Wyoming changing our laws, the federal government has maintained they must go through another public review and perhaps more disconcerting another peer review of the plan.

Naturally there is skepticism towards the whole process in the agricultural community. This will be the third time that Wyoming has gone forward with a plan that would allow for state management of wolves. Another part of this whole picture will be a Congressional approval of the agreement to avoid another legal battle. Absent such approval, all Wyoming has done is raised the floor on where the next round of negotiations will begin.

We are all aware that, prior to wolves being brought into Wyoming, they agreed that recovery numbers were 10 breeding pairs, or approximately 100 wolves. The number was then increased to 150 to allow for a buffer number. That, however, seemed to be the number we needed. Indeed, Norm Bishop, who used to work for Yellowstone National Park as a ranger, told the Big Horn County Farm Bureau back in 1990 that the wolf population will not be allowed to expand beyond 150 wolves over the next 30 years (People Magazine, Sept. 24, 1990). Mr. Bishop has since retired from Yellowstone but sits on the board for the Wolf Recovery Foundation, and is a frequent critic of wolf delisting efforts. As of December 2010 there were over 243 wolves, 33 documented wolf packs and 19 breeding pair in Wyoming outside of the parks and Wind River Reservation.

Proposed legislation has not been made public yet, but if this agreement goes forward, then Wyoming legislation will need to move the state from being responsible for seven breeding pairs to 10 breeding pairs, as well as alter the southern TGMA boundary.

Ranchers who have livestock losses within the trophy game management zone will be compensated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department based on the same process that is currently used for losses caused by other trophy game animals. Wolves outside of the TGMA will be treated as predators and losses of livestock will not be compensated by the Department. Losses of livestock in the flex area will not be compensated if they occurred when the wolf was classified as a predator as explained in the wolf management plan.  
Should Congress not approve the agreement reached, then about the only option left for the state would be to prepare for the another round of litigation, and there certainly is disagreement between folks on whether the decision from Judge Johnson’s court will hold sway. Once the plan moves away from the original facts litigated, then a judicial concept res judicata (a thing judicially acted upon or decided) utilized by the courts to avoid needless re-litigation of similar facts, becomes moot.  

In order to find out whether the current agreement does move beyond those facts decided in Judge Johnson’s court will probably take another law suit. Undoubtedly, if the environmental community has a choice the case will not be filed in Wyoming. A peer review with a different conclusion that the first peer review will also moot any gains made by the state in Judge Johnson’s court.

Should Congress not ratify the agreement, Wyoming would be wise to hit the reset button on any changes that have been proposed but even then it may be too little to late, depending on the outcome of the peer review process.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Association Executive Vice President