Game and Fish Commission passes Wyoming wolf planWritten by Saige
Casper – A meeting of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission held on Sept. 14 resulted in the Commission’s passage of the revised Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan.
The Commission, consisting of President Fred Lindzey of Laramie, Vice President Aaron Clark of Wheatland, Michael Healy of Worland, Richard Klouda of Lander, Carrie Little of Leiter, Ed Mignery of Sundance and Charles Price of Daniel heard a report from Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Wildlife Division Chief Brian Nesvik detailing the evolution of the Wyoming Wolf Plan.
Nesvik included details on the development of the Wyoming Wolf Plan, comments received and revisions made to the draft plan that was published on Aug. 8.
“Very recently, Governor Mead initiated new negotiations with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and reached an agreement and an acceptable plan that will move toward delisting wolves,” said Nesvik. “As a result of those negotiations, we made revisions to the 2008 wolf management plan.”
The revised plan was posted on Aug. 8 and open for public comment until Sept. 9 at which point comments were taken into consideration and modifications were made to the wolf plan.
Currently, according to Nesvik, wolf populations have reached 1,650 wolves in the Northern Rockies. In Wyoming, 243 wolves, 33 packs and 19 breeding pairs exist outside of Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation.
“This demonstrates that in Wyoming, we have far exceeded the recovery goals and the delisting criteria,” says Nesvik. “We reached recovery levels in 2002.”
From there, Nesvik said that the basis of the 2008 wolf plan was changed to comply with the terms negotiated between Governor Mead and the Department of the Interior.
“One of the things that remains unchanged is the whole notion of dual status. That management philosophy is protected. Also, wolves would not be regulated or managed outside the trophy game area. Wolves would be managed through sport hunting within the trophy game area,” said Nesvik. “The public will also have the ability to defend their property from wolves causing damage.”
The changes made in the 2011 draft plan resulted from public comments collected orally during meetings around the state, as well as written comments received by the Commission.
In the nine public information gathering meetings held around the state, 374 people attended, but only 39 written comments were provided. Comments received through the mail and fax numbered 633. Of that, 43 percent agreed with the wolf plan, leaving 55 percent disagreeing with the plan as written and two percent having no opinion.
“There were a number of folks who were involved in analyzing comments and looking at the plan,” said Nesvik. “The FWS looked at the plan to ensure that it would be approved quickly. We also conducted an internal review of the plan, and the Governor’s Office was heavily involved with looking at the comments to make sure they were in compliance with the agreement reached.”
“First of all, we clarified that the state is not responsible for maintaining wolves in Yellowstone National Park or in the Wind River Reservation. We also clarified that the Commission cannot change the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area (WTGMA),” said Nesvik. “We additionally included that at a later point in time the Commission could change reporting periods after the initial hunting season.”
There was concern about the wording of the sections relating to the WTGMA boundaries. In the Aug. 8 draft, wording of the plan said that the Commission could expand the WTGMA, which was changed in the Sept. 14 plan to say the Commission could not change the boundary.
Price explained, “If you look at the way it was worded, if the Commission expanded the WTGMA, then that could be claimed as the trophy game area, and the Commission could not diminish from the expanded line.”
Lindzey, on the other hand, worried that the inability to expand WTGMA would tie the Commission’s hands, in the event that the boundary need to be expanded.
After an explanation of the potential limitations that reverting the language could have, as well as the opportunities to make changes to the plan after five years, if necessary, the Sept. 14 draft remained as recommended by Nesvik.
Other changes include clarification of authority and responsibility of the department, as well as clarification to lethal take permits for livestock producers who are experiencing conflicts with wolves. Such permits would be issued for 45-day periods and are renewable continuously as long as the conflict persists.
“We clarified for compensation of damage to avoid confusion with ‘damage to private property.’ We also revised the boundary description of the year-round WTGMA,” said Nesvik.
“We also changed the state’s contribution to 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves. We will be considering all sources of mortality in maintaining those numbers.”
One topic from the plan that was contentious and the subject of litigation for a number of cases is maintaining genetic exchange and facilitating that exchange within the sub-populations of the Northern Rockies.
“To ensure that Wyoming sub-populations remain genetically connected, the WTGMA is proposed to be seasonally expanded to facilitate genetic interchange,” said Nesvik. “That is one of the key points of agreement between the Governor’s Office and Secretary Salazar’s Office.”
The ‘flex zone’ of the wolf plan provides a corridor for wolves to migrate through in the late fall and winter months into Idaho.
“The genetic interchange is at the crux,” said Lindzey, who raised questions about feasibility of determining whether genetic interchange is occurring within the population.
Ken Mills, WGFD wolf management specialist, explained that through genetic samples, as well as tracking information, genetic interchange would be monitored.
The samples collected would be obtained from any wolf killed in the WTGMA, as well as any animals handled by the WGFD.
“When you consider that 90 percent of the wolves reside in the WTGMA and we have a very intensive monitoring program within that area, we will be able to meet the threshold of samples necessary,” said Nesvik.
Nesvik also commented that additional clarifying language inserted in the plan on the definition of suitable habitat, as well as adding language to increase documentation on the positive impact of wolves and to identify the conflicts caused by elk comingling with livestock due to wolves.
Other changes made include recommendations to address damage handling and compensation, as well as protocol to determine agencies responsible for handling packs that cross political boundaries in their home range, particularly the Yellowstone National Park boundary. A variety of editorial changes not affecting the content of the plan were also made.
When Nesvik concluded his presentation of the changes made to the draft plan, Lindzey opened the discussion for public comment. Comments ranged from support of the plan to those groups advocating against a wolf management plan.
Following public comment, the Commission voted unanimously to accept the Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan and to forward the document to the FWS to continue the path to delisting the gray wolf.
After the Commission approved the Wyoming Wolf Plan, the plan with be sent to the FWS for review.
“Hopefully, that will result in the issuing and publishing of a draft delisting rule by the first part of October,” said Nesvik. “They will conduct their own public input process. We are shooting for a timeline of having the delisting rule published by Oct. 1 of next year. The rule would be effective 30 days after that.”
Additionally, the Wyoming Legislature would have to consider revisions to state statutes to make everything consistent, namely chapters 21 and 47 relating the WGFD, according to Nesvik.